Turns out, rumors of Tony Nelson’s demise were greatly exaggerated. As were those of Penn State’s wrestling invincibility.
Nelson, the Gophers heavyweight and the two-time reigning NCAA champion, entered Sunday’s dual meet against No. 1 Penn State with a three-match losing streak. But the senior from Cambridge supplied the decisive points as the Gophers, ranked No. 2 by Amateur Wrestling News, knocked off the Nittany Lions 18-17 in front of a sold-out, amped-up crowd at the Sports Pavilion.
The victory gave the Gophers (10-1, 7-1) the Big Ten dual meet championship, which they will share with Penn State (13-1, 7-1), the three-time defending NCAA champion.
‘‘What a way to end your career,’’ Gophers coach J Robinson said of Nelson, who was wrestling his final home match. “There was a lot of opportunity for the team and the individuals themselves, and they made the most of it.’’
Added Nelson: “It’s great to beat the No. 1 team, senior year, final match at home. It was awesome.’’
Nelson’s 6-0 decision over Penn State’s Jon Gingrich punctuated a back-and-forth dual that saw Penn State take an early 7-3 lead before the Gophers came back to lead 12-7 at intermission.
And as much as Nelson’s victory sealed the outcome, the performance of 157-pounder Dylan Ness sent the Gophers on their way to the upset.
Ness, ranked No. 8 by the wrestling website Intermat, pinned No. 4 Dylan Alton in the third period, throwing the Nittany Lion to his back after a strong countermove to an attempted takedown. Ness’ victory delivered an ear-piercing roar from the announced crowd of 5,603.
“I think that gave a big boost to our team and really got the crowd going,’’ said Ness, a junior from Bloomington who handed Penn State only its third loss by fall in Big Ten matches this season. “… Nothing better than getting a fall for your team.’’
The Gophers won three of the first five matches. Joining Ness were David Thorn on a decision at 133 and Nick Dardanes with a thrilling 6-4 triumph (sudden victory 2) over Zach Beitz.
“To get three wins in that first five was a big deal for us. That kind of set the stage on what we needed to do,’’ Robinson said. “But it wasn’t over by any stretch of the imagination.’’
It certainly wasn’t, although Ness’ victory and its six team points supplied a cushion the Gophers needed against the upcoming Penn State gantlet — No. 1-ranked David Taylor at 157, No. 3 Matt Brown at 174 and No. 2 Ed Ruth at 184.
Taylor scored a 13-3 major decision over Gophers senior Danny Zilverberg, but Robinson was pleased Penn State didn’t get more than the one bonus point.
“He saved us a point,’’ Robinson said. “It made all the difference in the world. He lost, but he contributed. That’s what a team effort is.’’
At 174, the Gophers’ sixth-ranked Logan Storley pulled off a four-point move early in the second period, then countered with a key takedown in the third for an 8-4 victory over Brown. That gave the Gophers a 15-11 lead with three matches to go.
Ruth, a two-time national champ, scored a quick takedown and made it stand on his way to a 7-1 decision over Kevin Steinhaus that cut the Minnseota lead to 15-14.
Penn State, though, wasn’t through.
Gophers junior Scott Schiller, ranked No. 1 at 197, suffered his first loss of the season, 8-4 to No. 6 Morgan McIntosh, as the Nittany Lions took a 17-15 lead.
That set up the drama at heavyweight, where Nelson came through.
“I’ve been in that situation before,’’ said Nelson, sporting a Big Ten championship hat, “and it’s always fun being able to lock it in.’’
What he locked in was something special, according to his coach.
“The beauty of it is those 10 guys did something very spectacular. They did something uncommon today,’’ Robinson said. “And they get to keep it for the rest of their lives. Nobody will ever take this cool thing away from them.’’