IOWA CITY, Iowa – University of Iowa Coach Tom Brands said he wanted answers and statements from his Hawkeye wrestlers.
They repeatedly gave him loud responses through the voices of 15,077 fans last night. They rattled the Carver-Hawkeye Arena rafters with each Hawkeye success.
The final roar came when heavyweight Bobby Telford capped the evening with a 9-2 decision over Jon Gingrich as third-ranked Iowa finished its 22-16 win over top-ranked Penn State in front of a sellout crowd. Iowa (16-1, 6-0) won six matches and remained the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten, handing the Nittany Lions (8-1, 5-1) their first loss of the season.
The Hawkeyes received bonus points in two early wins, and added a pair of one-point victories to take control of the dual late.
"I think you start with winning close matches and bonus points," Brands said. "I think we scored four bonus points – (Tony) Ramos and (Mark) Ballweg – and winning close matches with (Matt) McDonough and (Derek) St. John and (Mike) Evans."
Iowa wrestled one of its most complete duals, finishing matches by recording winning moves or distancing themselves from the opposition. The victory showed progress but it was a good effort for one dual victory.
"I'm not going to over-emphasize this win," Brands said. "Put it that way, but I will give our guys a lot of credit."
The dual was stocked with big matches, starting with 125 pounds. In a rematch of last year's NCAA finals, Iowa's top-ranked McDonough faced No. 2 Nico Megaludis. They continued their string of close battles.
McDonough escaped with four seconds remaining in the tiebreaker overtime for a 2-1 win. The crowd erupted when he kicked away for the winning point. The tone of the meet rested on McDonough's shoulders.
"Absolutely there's pressure but that pressure builds you up," McDonough said. "That's what you compete for, that's what you come here for, that's why you're an elite athlete for. How you become the best is embracing the pressure and using it as a force to be reckoned with."
McDonough had to fight off Megaludis shots at the end of the third period and overtime.
"I don't think of it as dodging bullets," McDonough said about fending off the late takedown attempts. "I think of it as being stingy."
McDonough improved to 14-0, extending his winning streak to 42 matches. Iowa had the momentum and the crowd behind them.
"It's awesome," McDonough said. "It's what you go to Iowa to wrestle for. To have a crowd and support like that is a blessing, but it's also a spark (and) you have to ignite the fire with it."
Ramos took center mat before McDonough could leave. He was dialed in and ready to shoot his own fireworks.
Ramos built a 10-4 lead in the second period when he hit Jordan Conaway with a cow-catcher, throwing him to his back for a fall in 4:23. The crowd spiked again with the 9-0 Hawkeyes lead. Ramos compared the noise to the reaction after he beat Oklahoma State NCAA champion Jordan Oliver last year at CHA.
"It gets you pumped up," Ramos said. "It gets you fired up and your excited for it."
The roll continued when Ballweg hit the mat against Bryan Pearsall at 141. Ballweg, a senior ranked as high as seventh, handled Pearsall for more Hawkeye bonus points. He two takedowns and five nearfall points for a 12-2 win. It was his sixth win by at least a major decision in his last seven matches against unranked foes. Iowa led 13-0.
The performance sends a statement to other programs as well.
"It sends a big message," Ramos said about the win. "Everyone was counting us out. We had a hiccup or slip against Oklahoma State. I think we sghould have won that dual meet, too.
"Even bigger, everyone talks about Penn State being the guys that score bonus points and get falls. Who had the only fall tonight? We did."
After Andrew Alton put Penn State on the board with a major decision win over Brody Grothus at 149, St. John answered with a win over No. 5 Dylan Alton at 157.
St. John scored a takedown with about 20 seconds remaining and rode Alton out for a 4-3 victory, putting Iowa up 16-4 at intermission.
The biggest swing match of the dual was expected at 174 between Evans and Matt Brown. Both were ranked as high as fourth in the national rankings.
Brown opened the scoring with a second-period reversal, but Evans battled back, scoring escapes in the second and third to tie the score at two apiece. Evans came through with a gut-check late. Brown shot in on a takedown attempt, coming close to scoring, but Evans scrambled. He picked up a single-leg of his own and finished for the decisive score.
"I got caught out of position and gave up that deep shot," Evans said. "I kept cool. I didn't bail. I kept my mind focused on scoring that takedown and not giving up the takedown. When I got my opportunity I took it, got my hips out and re-attacked."
Evans deflected the notion that he has become a pillar of the Hawkeyes upperweights.
"I guess this was one of the swing matches if you look at it on paper," Evans said. "Every guy is going to step up and be a leader when they get the opportunity. Maybe I've had more opportunities to step up and be a leader and you see that more often."
Iowa had a comfortable 19-9 lead with three matches left. Penn State received a technical fall from David Taylor (165), a major decision from top-ranked 184-pounder Ed Ruth and a decision from Quentin Wright at 197, cutting the lead to 19-16 before Telford finished off the Iowa win.