Rutgers pushes No. 1 Penn State, falls late at home, 25-15

Suriano, DelVecchio, Van Brill secure wins for Knights

The final score may not look like it, but the Rutgers wrestling team took it to Penn State at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) on Sunday.

Despite the 25-15 loss, the No. 18 Scarlet Knights (5-5, 1-4) pushed the No. 1 Nittany Lions (11-0, 7-0) to the absolute limit.

“We wrestled really, really hard, that’s all I ask of these guys,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “I’m super, super proud of them. You don’t ever like to lose, I’m not into moral victories at all. We knew what we were up against, (Penn State) is a great team, an all-time team, I get it, but we wrestled really hard, we brought the fight so I’m excited for that.”

And for most of the match, Rutgers was actually in the lead. 

It all started with No. 1 sophomore 125-pounder Nick Suriano, who had himself a busy week — earning the top spot in his weight class and welcoming his former team, who just happened to be reigning national champions, to the RAC.

“A little bit, I felt it,” Suriano said on his energy level going into the match. “But same preparation, like I said before, to me it’s just another match. I made sure I ramped it up and do what I had to do, get the fall.”

And get the fall he did. With time winding down in the third period and the crowd on its feet cheering on its hometown hero, Suriano pinned Penn State's Devin Schnupp, giving the Knights an early 6-0 lead.

No. 19 fifth-year senior 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio kept the good times rolling, picking up his 76th career win with a 6-2 decision over Lion Corey Keener. 

“I thought we went out to wrestle to win most spots,” Goodale said. “I thought the effort was awesome, I think we were going out there to score points, have fun, wrestle hard and be aggressive … I’m proud of the way we wrestled today.”

But the Lions den was just getting started as five of Penn State’s next six wrestlers were among the nation’s top two in their weight class — including five reigning national champions.

It started with redshirt freshman 141-pounder Michael Van Brill slated to face No. 7 Nick Lee. After three periods, Lee proved to be too much and won by decision, 5-2. 

Next up was No. 13 fifth-year senior Eleazar DeLuca versus No. 1 Zain Retherford in the 149 weight class — the first of three straight top-ranked opponents. In a chippy match, which included multiple stoppages for hits to the face from both sides, Retherford breezed through DeLuca, 14-2, and the team's lead dwindled to 9-7.

It wasn’t until No. 17 junior 157-pounder John Van Brill’s matchup against No. 1 Jason Nolf that things got heated. After twisting his leg like a pretzel, Van Brill got the injury default win over Nolf to help Rutgers go up 15-7.

But during the intermission, the Lions lost a team point after the team’s bench was arguing that the official didn’t step in soon enough to prevent the Nolf injury.

“It’s tough to see that,” Suriano said about his former teammate. “I went through it, broke my ankle on the mat and had my whole season stripped, and that’s how this whole dilemma began so I feel for him.”

After the break, now up 15-6, No. 11 fifth-year senior 165-pounder Richie Lewis was set to take on No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph. In a very close matchup, Joseph escaped with the win, 5-4, and Penn State inched closer, 15-9.

At 174, redshirt freshman Joseph Grello was no match for No. 2 Mark Hall who got the big technical fall to almost even the score at 15-14. 

Much like Lewis’s match, all eyes were on the matchup between No. 12 fifth-year senior 184-pounder Nicholas Gravina and No. 1 Bo Nickal. But just like Lewis’s match, Gravina was one takedown away from winning the match, ultimately falling 6-5. The Lions now led for the first time on the afternoon, 17-15.

"They're close," Goodale said about his two talented fifth-year seniors. "But, we gotta beat those guys, I know that's the way they're thinking ... That's the bottom line, we gotta beat those guys. I feel like they believe like they can win those matches, I know they train that way all week to prepare for it. They believe they can win those matches, you just gotta do it."

After that, it was all Penn State, who ended the night winning big in the last two bouts and taking the match 25-15.

No matter, Goodale thinks this was a step in the right direction for his program and its fanbase.

“It’s good for Rutgers University. It’s good for Rutgers wrestling. This was our vision,” he said. “I hope our New Jersey fans leave here saying ‘Wow, I’m excited. I need to come back.' This thing is gonna get bigger and better there’s no question about it.”

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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