The showdown between #1 Iowa and #2 Penn State was hyped as the dual meet of the year and in terms of drama, it pretty well delivered the goods. Iowa came away with a 19-17 win in front of a sellout crowd of 14,905 with a big finishing kick, winning the final two matches (and three of the final four) to earn the victory. No team won more than two matches in a row, though Iowa won three of five matches before intermission and three of five matches after intermission. Despite that, Iowa only led the dual twice -- after the first match and after the last match. That was good enough.
A dual where one team wins six matches and the other wins four isn't often as close as this one was, but as they've done so often over the last decade, bonus points provided a critical boost to Penn State. They scored six points off a stunning injury default loss by Austin DeSanto at 133 lbs and then got a technical fall from Nick Lee at 141 lbs; taking 11 points from two matches will certainly help your cause. Iowa's only bonus points came from -- who else? -- Spencer Lee, who started the dual with his customary technical fall. (In effect, his technical fall ended up being worth only four points because Iowa was deducted a team point in the very next match, but that deduction ended up not being critical to the outcome, given how the rest of the dual went.)
That 11-point outburst from Penn State quieted the sold-out and very loud Iowa crowd; it put Iowa in an 11-4 hole after three matches and left the Hawkeyes trying to claw their way back for the remainder of the night. Pat Lugo and Kaleb Young stopped the bleeding at 149 and 157, respectively, with a pair of decision wins that drew Iowa back to within a point, 11-10, at intermission. Before the dual, the two #1 vs #2 showdowns at 165 and 174 looked like key swing matches and that feeling was only heightened after the way the first half of the dual went. 165 seemed like the match Iowa had a better chance to win, given Alex Marinelli's 2-0 lifetime record against Vincenzo Joseph, but this time the pendulum swung Joseph's way with a 7-5 win. That left 174 as a must-win weight for the Hawkeyes, with Michael Kemerer taking on undefeated #1-ranked Mark Hall, a three-time NCAA finalist (and one-time NCAA champion).
With the spotlight shining at its brightest, Michael Kemerer produced maybe the finest match -- and biggest win -- of his Iowa career, knocking off Hall 11-6. The blue chip Pennsylvania recruit Penn State didn't want scored the critical win in Iowa's victory over Penn State. You absolutely love to see it. Kemdawg's win sent the Carver crowd into a cacophonous frenzy.
ELECTRICITY FROM KEM. @Hawks_Wrestling— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) February 1, 2020
Michael Kemerer downs NCAA champion and No. 1-ranked Mark Hall to blow the top off of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. @FloWrestling
Tune into BTN NOW.
BTN x @AutoOwnersIns pic.twitter.com/Anrg8GGcV8
What a match. What a win. What a moment.
Penn State still had a slim 14-13 lead heading to 184 lbs, which featured two true freshmen pairing off in Penn State's Aaron Brooks and Iowa's Abe Assad. Assad has already had some impressive moments under the bright lights in Carver; unfortunately, he didn't add to that list here, as Brooks managed to control him throughout the match and get the win. That left Iowa needing to sweep the final two weights to have a shot at winning the dual.
When last we saw Jacob Warner, he had suffered a disappointing 3-1 loss to Nebraska's Eric Schultz after conceding a takedown in the closing seconds of the third period. Against Shakur Rasheed, Warner didn't let things get to that point; he secured a takedown in the first, then put a hard ride on Rasheed for most of the period. He wrestled the final two periods cautiously, keeping himself out of any dangerous situations. It may not have been exhilarating to watch, but it resulted in a very necessary 4-2 win.
So the dual meet, the heavily hyped showdown between the top two teams in the sport, came down to the final match -- hard to ask for a much more dramatic finish than that. The match itself was less thrilling, mainly because Iowa has Tony Cassioppi and he is an absolute beast. The first period did showcase some impressive drama -- and some incredible defense and mat awareness from Cassioppi in his ability to somehow turn a deep attack from Nevills into a scoring opportunity of his own. Cassioppi put on a mean ride after that and did so again after adding a takedown in the third period. With cheers of "TO-NY! TO-NY! TO-NY!" ringing out, Iowa's big fella came away with a 7-0 win -- and pushed Iowa to a 19-17 win in the dual meet.
And so the first round of this year's likely-three round slugfest between Iowa and Penn State went to the Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes proved they had the superior dual meet team tonight, even managing to overcome a freakish (and extremely costly) injury default at 133 lbs and come away with the dual meet win. We'll find out in March if Iowa also has the better tournament team. This match didn't tell us much about how those races might go down, but it did show us that these two teams each have a lot of firepower -- more firepower than any other teams in the nation.
#1 Iowa 19, #2 Penn State 17
|125||#1 Spencer Lee||TECH FALL (16-1)||Brandon Meredith||IOWA 5-0|
|133||#4 Roman Bravo-Young||INJ DEFAULT||#2 Austin DeSanto||PENN ST 6-4*|
|141||#2 Nick Lee||TECH FALL (20-5)||Carter Happel||PENN ST 11-4|
|149||#3 Pat Lugo||DEC (6-1)||#19 Jared Verkleeren||PENN ST 11-7|
|157||#4 Kaleb Young||DEC (6-1)||Bo Pipher||PENN ST 11-10|
|165||#1 Vincenzo Joseph||DEC (7-5)||#2 Alex Marinelli||PENN ST 14-10|
|174||#2 Michael Kemerer||DEC (11-6)||#1 Mark Hall||PENN ST 14-13|
|184||#8 Aaron Brooks||DEC (7-3)||#6 Abe Assad||PENN ST 17-13|
|197||#5 Jacob Warner||DEC (4-2)||#11 Shakur Rasheed||PENN ST 17-16|
|285||#3 Tony Cassioppi||DEC (7-0)||#16 Seth Nevills||IOWA 19-17|
*Iowa was deducted a team point for "failure to control the mat area" during the 133 lb match.
Some additional thoughts:
Spencer Lee gave up his first point in 2020! He conceded an escape to Brandon Meredith in his match tonight, which runs his aggregate score in five matches this this calendar year to 82-1. He's outscored Big Ten opponents 98-1 this year. This was his sixth straight technical fall victory and the third time during that streak that he's wrestled into the second period. In related news, Spencer Lee is still absolutely ri-damn-diculous.
The good vibes from Spencer's opening match thrashing evaporated quickly, though, given what happened at 133. Austin DeSanto tried to get a quick score against Bravo-Young and got in on a shot, but Bravo-Young was able to scramble into a cradle attack of his own. In doing so, though, he managed to injury DeSanto's knee and he screamed out in pain, leading the referee to stop the match so DeSanto could receive medical attention. After getting treatment for a few minutes, DeSanto was able to get off the mat and resume the match -- though he was limping when he returned to the center of the mat on restarts. He continued attacking, but to no avail; Bravo-Young was the one actually able to finish shots. Another failed DeSanto attack led to another Bravo-Young takedown -- and another Bravo-Young cradle attempt, which aggravated DeSanto's already-injured knee. The match was stopped again and DeSanto was unable to continue, resulting in an injury default.
Was that a 9-point swing in the dual? Maybe. It's impossible to say with any certainty that DeSanto would have won the match if he hadn't gotten injured, although he was favored to do so. But certainly no one expected Bravo-Young to get six points from the match, which gave Penn State an unexpected points cushion early. It was also an incredibly deflating moment for the very juiced-up Iowa crowd. The extent of DeSanto's injury is unknown at the moment, though he was seen near the bench at the end of the dual without a wrap or brace on his knee and Tom Brands didn't think the injury was too serious at this point.
The bad vibes for Iowa kept on at 141 lbs where Nick Lee put on an absolute clinic in his technical fall demolition of Carter Happel. Happel (and Iowa) were frankly a bit lucky that it only ended up a tech call, given that Lee had Happel in a deep cradle and seemed sure to pin him at one point. But this match was all Lee; he did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted and there was nothing Happel could do. If Iowa's going to score points at 141, they're going to either need Max Murin to get healthy -- or those rumors of Jaydin Eierman entering the lineup will need to become a reality.
After two straight Penn State wins, Iowa badly needed wins at 149 and 157, two weights where they were clearly favored to be victorious. Lugo and Young got the job done in terms of picking up the Ws -- but no more than that. Lugo got an early takedown at 149 and put on a hard ride, but did little the rest of the way; after that takedown, Lugo's points came on a riding time point, an escape, and three stall points. Lugo controlled the action well enough to earn the stall points against Verkleeren, but he was never particularly close to scoring any more takedowns himself. Young's match wasn't too different from Lugo's -- he got an early takedown and put a very hard (and very lengthy) ride on Pipher. The rest of his match points came via a reversal, an escape, and riding time. In both matches, it was frustrating to see the Iowa wrestler seem content with a 4-5 point decision win rather than push for more takedowns and potential bonus points. Young, in particular, seemed like he would have been better-served to go hunting for another few takedowns than rack up several minutes of riding time. It wasn't surprising to see Lugo and Young wrestle like this -- this has been their M.O. for the last two years, more or less -- but that didn't really make it much less frustrating.
Say this for Marinelli and Joseph: they make sure their matches get to the fireworks factory. Joseph's cast-iron hips make it difficult for Marinelli to score off leg attacks, which results in a lot of upper-body ties instead and attempts at inside trips and lateral drops. Joseph is comfortable playing that game, too, as he showed tonight. In their first two matches, Marinelli came away victorious in the upper-body action, taking Joseph to his back in each match for the decisive points. This time it was Joseph taking Marinelli to take his back for the decisive points, stepping around for (it has to be said) an absolutely beautiful lateral drop. Marinelli kept battling, with a key reversal at the end of the second period and a takedown late in the third period, but he couldn't make up the six points off that one big throw. All three matches between these two guys have been pretty thrilling and featured some huge action; I wouldn't say no to a couple more matches at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, though hopefully with The Bull emerging victorious in those rematches.
If that #1 vs #2 match was good, the follow-up between Mark Hall and Michael Kemerer at 174 lbs was even better. And it certainly had a better ending for Iowa fans. Maybe watching Joseph and Marinelli throw bombs at each other for seven minutes inspired Hall, because he came out trying to throw a bomb of his own, trying to score a big move with a throw off a headlock. Kemerer showcased his impressive defense and scrambling ability, though, and rolled through the throw -- before turning it into a takedown of his own. That frenetic start was only the start to a frenzied first period, though, with Hall getting a reversal, followed by a Kemerer escape, a Hall takedown, and then a Kemerer reversal. Whew. The period ended with Kemerer up 5-4. Both guys wore down a bit after that high-octane first period, but the second and third periods were still all Kemerer, as he added another escape and two more takedowns to turn a tight match into a comfortable win. The Carver crowd absolutely erupted on Kemerer's final takedown. Hall looked stunned as the match ended and I can't wait to see possible rematches between these two at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. 165 and 174 more than lived up to the #1 vs #2 hype and were easily worth the price of admission for tonight's dual by themselves. This result also means that Mark Hall will end his career without a win in Carver-Hawkeye Arena; he lost his first match out of redshirt here to Alex Meyer way back in 2017 and he bookeneded that with this loss to Kemerer. You hate to see it.
The elation Iowa fans felt from Kemdawg's win was short-lived, though, because Aaron Brooks was able to wrest momentum back to Penn State's side at 184. Like Hall in the previous match, Abe Assad went for a big move off a headlock early in the match here; also like Hall, he failed and ended up giving up a takedown to Brooks. If Assad had succeeded in landing that move, I think the roof really might have come off Carver. Alas. Brooks seemed to be in total control of the match after landing that early takedown and was better than Assad in all positions. Honest Abe is going to need to go back to the drawing board before they meet again.
The final two matches of the night were must-wins for Warner and Cassioppi -- and they delivered the goods. There isn't too much to say about Warner's win -- "workmanlike" or "a grind" would probably be the best ways to describe it -- but it was a result Iowa absolutely needed to have and he produced in a big moment. Rasheed's dangerous with big moves and cradles and Warner smartly never let Rasheed get close to landing any big offense in the match.
- Tony Pins has fast become a fan favorite for Iowa fans, and his win here will likely go down as one of the signature moments of his Iowa career, given its significance in the dual. Warner's win put Iowa in a position to win the dual, but Tony still had to come through -- and that's precisely what he did. Cassioppi's ability to fight off Nevills' attack in the first period was, frankly, incredible. It would have been impressive to see a lightweight wrestler wriggle out of that jam; to see a massive heavyweight do it was absolutely jaw-dropping. And then to turn it into a scoring move of his own? W-O-W. The match was pretty much academic after that, with Cassioppi riding the snot out of Nevills and adding an escape, stall point, second takedown, and riding time point in the final period.
For the first time since 2015, Iowa has knocked off Penn State in a dual meet. For the first time since 2013, Iowa has knocked off Penn State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Round one goes to the Hawkeyes. I think winning the Dual of the Year is cause for a little celebration:
NEXT: Iowa has a quick turnaround to head out to East Lansing to take on Michigan State (6-7, 1-5 Big Ten) on Sunday, February 2 (12 PM CT, BTN+).