Quentin Wright stood tall in the center of the Nittany Lion logo emblazoned on Penn State's wrestling mat in Rec Hall. Hardly a drop of sweat on his body, Wright had just picked up his 100th career victory, beating Wisconsin's Jackson Hein in the 197-pound match by fall via a spladle in 1:24 of the first period to secure State's 36-6 win Friday night in front of 6,515 fans.
Most matches would be the headline. Not on this night, though.
Rather, it was a local standout who stole the show early on, captivating the crowd for a full seven minutes and then some. New Oxford High (Abbotstown, Pa.) product Jordan Conaway scored a heart-racing 10-8 decision over the Badgers' No. 3 Tyler Graff at 133 pounds in sudden victory, a match that surged a sold-out crowd into mayhem. And it was a memory-maker.
It's super special because he doesn't realize that he created a memory for 6,000 people that they will hold onto for the rest of their life, Wright said. People will relive that moment over and over. It's a testament to the person he is and his never-say-die attitude.
Here is how things broke down Friday night.
Match of the Night
Trailing 7-4, Conaway quickly turned in and out from Graff after starting down at the beginning of the third period. He then scored his first takedown of the match with under 30 seconds to wrestle, circling in on Graff and slipping behind him to cut the deficit to 7-6 with 21 seconds left.
But Graff quickly recovered to his base and released from Conaway's grasp to earn his own escape, and increase his lead to 8-6. Then a sold-out Rec Hall crowd turned in its best performance of the night, vocally becoming a third man on the mat as Conaway snapped down on Graff, and circled behind the Badger junior to tie the match at 8-8 with only 14 seconds left in the third period and ultimately sending the bout to sudden victory.
The best was yet to come, though. After Graff got in on a deep shot early in the sudden victory period, Conaway rolled through his legs and worked back through to force a stalemate. And off the re-start, Conaway pounced again, this time scurrying behind and stunning the Badger with a takedown and a 10-8 victory.
It's crazy, especially at Rec Hall, with the screaming and everything going on, Conaway said. I could tell he was getting tired, and not as deep on his shots, so the takedowns were easier to get. That win is up there. It might be my best, I'm not sure, but it's up there.
Head coach Cael Sanderson also came away mightily impressed.
Jordan is real consistent; the same person every day. You know he's going to go out there and give it his best, Sanderson said. He gave himself a chance to win, and hopefully that's something he can build on. It's already history, but it was fun.
Wright Wrangles No. 100
Wright's spladle off the left center of the mat was easily the best combination for a fall on this evening. Leading 2-0 after a blink-of-the-eye takedown, Wright took advantage of Hein's brief second of relaxation and pounced to end the match after 24 seconds.
The opportunity was there. But yeah, it was fun, Wright said when asked if he would have liked his match to last longer. It means a lot [to get his 100th at home], giving back to the people around me and the community. These people have been watching me since I started wrestling, and it's nice to achieve moments like that with your family.
But he and Sanderson were quick to put the match into a mentality that fits the two-time defending national champion Nittany Lions.
I don't think 100 wins is that big of a deal, it's kind of a given -- it's one of those steps along the way, Sanderson said. It's exciting to celebrate, but I don't think he came to Penn State to get in the 100-wins club.
Penn State issued its first video replay challenge of the season Friday night in the 149-pound match between James English and Wisconsin's Cole Schmitt. After wrestling seven minutes in a fairly pedestrian 2-2 match (save for dual third-period stalling calls) and a similar sudden victory period, English started down to begin the first tiebreaker period
After almost having his back exposed for near-fall points, English rolled through and over Schmitt for what appeared to be a reversal. But head referee Nate Chapman didn't reward it. But Sanderson used his challenge -- each coach receives one. Win it and you get another, lose it and it's gone.
The decision confirmed the call of no reversal on the mat.
English went on to lose the match 8-4 after Schmitt hit a turn for three near-fall points in the second tiebreaker period.
The rule is in a test phase this season.
I don't like the rule, and looking back on it, I wish we wouldn't have called it, Sanderson said. But you have to do what's in the best interest of your kid. It looked like his hands were locked in a cradle, so we reviewed it. Hopefully it won't stick, and I think it was a mistake on my part because it slowed down the match and I think James had the conditioning edge. It takes a long time because it doesn't always work right, and there were different angles that you couldn't see anything from. We're just testing it this year.
Taylor Plays Catch & Release
Six first-period takedowns for David Taylor sparked the Nittany Lion junior to a 25-7 technical fall in the 165-pound match against the Badgers' Frank Cousins. Taylor totaled eight takedowns, improving his record to 14-1 this season.
But now, the Nittany Lion standout is looking toward the future, where Penn State will go on the road for six of its next eight matches to end the season.
We really haven't had a road test since I've been in school, and this year we're going to the best to get tested, Taylor said. We're going to wrestle at Iowa, a tough Illinois team, Ohio State then against Pittsburgh. I haven't wrestled at [Carver-Hawkeye Arena at Iowa] yet, and that's the second best place beside Rec Hall, so I'm really looking forward to the next month and a half.
Penn State surrendered its most takedowns of the season to Wisconsin, as the Badgers recorded eight. But the Nittany Lions still cruised to a 28-8 victory in that category.
Penn State forced Wisconsin to stall 10 times in the match, while only being hit with four calls themselves.
The Nittany Lions scored 88 individual points in the match, 56 of which came via takedown.
Wright is the 27th member of the Penn State 100 win club.
The Nittany Lions return to action Sunday, when they battle Purdue in West Lafayette at 1 p.m.