More than 6,500 fans filed into Rec Hall Sunday for the final Penn State dual meet of the season. It was the last time to catch a glimpse of the top-ranked Nittany Lions before they begin their trek toward a third national title. It was also a bid farewell to two wrestlers who have been a staple piece in the Nittany Lion lineup throughout past three years.
Seniors Bryan Pearsall (141) and No. 2 Quentin Wright (197) led the Lions to a 48-0 romp over Rider during their last home performance. Honored as co-Ridge Riley Award winners, given to the dual meet's outstanding wrestler, Pearsall stuck his opponent for the fall in 2:01, and Wright cruised to a 12-4 major decision. Both victories were met with a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd. Taking in the moment, the seniors waved to the Rec Hall faithful before returning to the team corner.
While it's probably a memory neither will forget, it's also a feeling - wrestling the last home match of your career - that didn't seem real during the post-match news conference.
"I don't think it's sunken in 100 percent yet," Pearsall said. "[I wanted] to personally acknowledge the fans and let them know that I'm really grateful for the support that they've given me the past few years."
"Yeah it's probably going to hit me the first home match of next year … when you're not allowed to weigh in," Wright followed. "I don't think I'd ever say that."
Cael Sanderson said it's difficult to say goodbye to any senior class and this one is no different.
"It's tough; Senior night is always tough," Sanderson said. "It's always like, 'I'm never going to see Quentin Wright wrestle in Rec Hall again. That's a bummer. Never going to see Pearsall.' But it's a celebration of their career and we're very happy for them and where they're at."
Seniors James English (149), Nick Fischer (165), Andrew Church (184) and Derek Reber (141), in addition to Pearsall and Wright, were acknowledged before the dual meet as the senior class. English, however, has qualified for a medical redshirt and could return for a sixth year of eligibility next season.
Best Performance - He said that he wished his last match in Rec Hall would have lasted longer, but the cradle was there. He couldn't pass it up.
2:01 into the first period, Pearsall locked up a cradle and stuck Rider's 141-pound Rob Cigna's shoulders to the mat for the fall.
"It would've been nice to get a little more mat time out there but there was an opening," he said. "I had to take it and I got the fall, which is what I wanted."
Pearsall had been held out of the last two dual meets for an undisclosed injury.
Most Anticipated Match - His coach calls him the "hometown hero". Centre County wrestling fans have been following Wright's wrestling career for more than a decade, and Sunday afternoon was the final chance to see the national champion in action on his home turf. It was can't-miss action.
Instead of pinning his opponent short of duration - though he certainly tried - Wright went the full seven minutes with Rider's 197-pound Ryan Wolfe. But Wright was in control throughout, piling on a 12-4 major decision.
Biggest Surprise - He had Rider's only ranked wrestler, but how surprising was it when No. 20 Ramon Santiago took down No. 2 David Taylor for the first points of the 165-pound bout?
A low Santiago takedown attempt on the opening whistle caught Taylor off-balance, and the Bronco wrestler gathered for the takedown. A few moments later, however, Taylor reversed Santiago's control to tie the score and the two-time All-American didn't look back.
3:48 into the bout, Taylor turned Santiago using wrist control and a half nelson for the fall.
Did you notice? - 285-pound No. 12 Jimmy Lawson made his fourth consecutive start against Rider's Greg Velasco. Lawson won, 3-0, with 3:36 of riding time.
Afterward Sanderson said that he's leaning toward naming Lawson the postseason starter over Jon Gingrich, who had previously won two of three heavyweight wrestle-offs.
"We've been giving Lawson the nod the last few matches and that's probably a pretty good indicator of what we're doing," Sanderson said, "but nothing is finalized."
Sanderson said that it has been a difficult decision choosing between the two sophomores, but he and the coaching staff must project who they feel will score the most points during the Big Ten and NCAA tournament.
"We're in practice every day, you're around them, you sense the attitude," Sanderson added. "There should be no surprises. You know these guys pretty well. I feel Lawson will be at his best in the big matches. That goes a long way. Gingrich has the ability to and he has come a real long way. He has had some big wins this year. Both - the sky is the limit with their potential. Both are still young in their careers and inexperienced, so its really hard to say."
125: No. 2 Nico Megaludis PSU pinned Patrick Skinner RID, WBF (3:48) 6-0
133: No. 14 Jordan Conaway PSU maj. dec. Mike Shupin RID, 19-5 10-0
141: Bryan Pearsall PSU pinned Rob Cigna RID, WBF (2:01) 16-0
149: No. 12 Andrew Alton PSU maj. dec. Curt Delia RID, 12-4 20-0
157: No. 5 Dylan Alton PSU dec. Zac Cibula RID, 5-2 23-0
165: No. 2 David Taylor PSU pinned No. 20 Ramon Santiago RID, WBF (3:48) 29-0
174: No. 7 Matt Brown PSU pinned James Brundage RID, WBF (4:06) 35-0
184: No. 1 Ed Ruth PSU pinned Ryan Wolfe RID, WBF (2:38) 41-0
197: No. 2 Quentin Wright PSU maj. dec. Donald McNeil RID, 12-4 45-0
285: No. 12 Jimmy Lawson PSU dec. Greg Velasco RID, 3-0 48-0
Records: Penn State 12-1, 7-1 Big Ten; Rider 10-7
Up Next for Penn State: at Rutgers, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2 p.m.