UNIVERSITY PARK — If this season has proven anything to Penn State wrestling fans, it’s that the Nittany Lions always seem to find a way to win, and it usually involves the four hammers at the back end of their lineup.
Even with two national champions out of the lineup Sunday due to illness, Penn State (10-0, 2-0 Big Ten) rallied from an 11-6 deficit at intermission to beat Indiana (2-2, 0-2), 29-11, in front of a sold-out Rec Hall crowd that was thinned by the ice storm that hit the area earlier in the day.
Even without top-ranked 133-pounder Roman Bravo-Young and No. 1 141-pounder Nick Lee, Penn State won seven of 10 bouts, sweeping all five after the intermission.
“That’s just the reality,” Nittany Lion coach Cael Sanderson said of RBY and Lee’s absences. “It was just kind of last second. I would suspect we’ll have more of that, and not just us, I mean just in college wrestling, obviously college sports this next little while.”
Still, with the depth of talent Penn State finds on its roster, the Lions have faith they can overcome whatever adversity presents itself.
“You know, I think we always find a way,” 184-pounder Aaron Brooks said.
They did again on Sunday.
Creighton Edsell started the comeback with an 11-3 major decision at 165 to pull the Nittany Lions to within 11-10.
Top-ranked Carter Starocci gave Penn State the lead for good as he wasted little time in scoring three takedowns and then securing a fall in 2:07.
Brooks kept up that momentum with a dominating 13-4 major decision over No. 8 D.J. Washington at 184. Washington scored the initial takedown, but all that did was seemingly inspire the defending national champion.
“I try to tell the guys this a lot too and I had to live by it today, you give up the first takedown and they have seven minutes left with you,” Brooks said. “So, I just kept that in my head. Just get to my feet and get the next one. Yeah, it definitely woke me up.”
Second-ranked 197-pounder Max Dean earned yet another bonus-point win, this one a 9-1 major decision. No. 4 Greg Kerkvliet closed out the win with a 20-3 technical fall in 4:59.
At 125, Drew Hildebrandt made his Rec Hall debut and delighted the home crowd with a workmanlike 6-2 decision over No. 25 Jacob Moran. A first-period takedown and third-period reversal fueled the win.
“We’re super happy to have him,” Sanderson said. “Great competitor and has had a lot of success, obviously. Tough kid and just fits in really well. We’re excited to have him on the team. I can’t state that enough. We’re pumped.”
Brooks, too, sounded impressed.
“He’s a beast man. He wrestles hard. He brings really good energy. He’s back there bouncing you know, he’s ready to go kill so I think it really really brings good energy to the team. I see him bouncing and getting ready, fired up, then we’re like a set the tone, set the mood and he does that,” he said.
The soft-spoken Hildebrandt said he was glad to be part of the team.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “The energy this team brings is special. It’s really, really cool. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Indiana got a technical fall at 133 and decision at 141, from No. 19 Brock Hudkins and Cayden Rooks, respectively, to open an 8-3 lead.
The Nittany Lions cut into the Hoosier advantage at 149. No. 20 Beau Bartlett notched takedowns in the first and second periods in a 6-4 decision.
Indiana pushed the lead back to five points after Derek Gilcher’s 4-1 win over Tony Negron at 157.
After that, as it is in most duals, it was all Penn State.
Edsell improved his record to 7-3. Starocci, Brooks, Dean and Kerkvliet have yet to taste defeat, compiling a 36-0 combined record.
I think they came back (after) the half and kind of got things ramped up a little bit,” Sanderson said. “Edsell started us off with that major, which was big.”
Penn State has a week off before returning to the mats for a 5 p.m. home dual on Sunday against Rutgers.
No. 1 Penn State 29, Indiana 11
(Sunday at University Park)
125: Drew Hildebrandt, PSU, dec. No. 25 Jacob Moran, 6-2. 133: No. 19 Brock Hudkins, IU, won by tech. fall over Baylor Shunk, 18-4 (5:30). 141: Cayden Rooks, IU, dec. Brandon Meredith, 9-4. 149: No. 20 Beau Bartlett, PSU, dec. Graham Rooks, 6-4. 157: Derek Gilcher, IU, dec. Tony Negron, 4-1. 165: No. 24 Creighton Edsell, PSU, maj. dec. Sammy Cokely, 11-3. 174: No. 1 Carter Starocci, PSU, pinned Sean Grim, 2:07. 184: No. 1 Aaron Brooks, PSU, maj. dec. No. 8 D.J. Washington, 13-4. 197: No. 2 Max Dean, PSU, maj. dec. Nick Wilham, 9-1. 285: No. 4 Greg Kerkvliet, PSU, won by tech. fall over Jacob Bullock, 20-3 (4:59).
Ridge Riley Award winner: Aaron Brooks.
Takedowns: Indiana 10; Penn State 21.
Records: Indiana 2-2, 0-2 Big Ten; Penn State 10-0, 2-0.
Next match: Rutgers at Penn State, 5 p.m. Sunday.