UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State raised the 2012 NCAA championship banner before the season opener with Lehigh, and then the Nittany Lion wrestling team began working toward its third straight national title.
While they didn't get a shutout before a large crowd Friday night at Rec Hall, the top-ranked Nittany Lions didn't disappoint.
The Lions, who are still working out their lineup, won eight of the 10 weights, got key early one-point wins by newcomer Jordan Conaway (New Oxford) at 133 and Bryan Pearsall at 141 and beat the Mountain Hawks, 29-6 before a sold-out crowd of 6,422.
"Overall, our team wrestled well," PSU coach Cael Sanderson said. "Lehigh is a well-coached team, and they're solid the whole way up their lineup. But, it looked like the first match of the year. A little flat, and we need to get a little more fire out there and sharpen our sticks a little bit."
"It was crazy with the sold-out crowd," said Conaway, whose dad, Dave, is a Philipsburg-Osceola graduate who coached in the Bellwood-Antis program at one point. "I was grateful for the opportunity to step out there in a Penn State singlet and wrestle in that environment."
After returning 125-pound NCAA runner-up Nico Megaludis rang up a 20-4 technical fall over Alex Abreu, Conaway, who redshirted last season, found himself in a 1-1 bout with Laike Gardner late in the third period when he hit a whizzer, slipped his leg around Gardner and got the takedown with about 8 seconds left to win, 3-2.
"Desperation kind of came up," Conaway said, "and I stepped over his hips and got a leg in. I don't know how technical it was, but I was trying to get something."
The Lions have four-time state champion Jimmy Gulibon at 133, but Sanderson said the plan is to redshirt the freshman. Sanderson also said redshirt sophomore Nate Morgan will wrestle Sunday against West Virginia.
Pearsall made a 1:09 riding time advantage over Anthony Salupo stand up in a 7-6 win.
At 149. James English, who missed all of last season with an injury and is filling in for the injured Andrew Alton, scored two late takedowns of Shane Welsh to win, 5-2, and give the Lions a 14-0 lead.
"It felt really good," English said. "I was a little nervous at first, but it's good to be nervous. I'm just really grateful that I can be back and wrestling."
The Lions' shutout, however, was broken up at 157 by Lehigh's 13-ranked Joey Napoli, who pulled off a 4-2 upset of second-ranked Dylan Alton.
"Joey is a worker," Lehigh coach Pat Santoro said. "He knows that if he wants to be a national champion, he has a lot of work to do. His conditioning level is through the roof right now."
Then, after the intermission, the Lions went on a roll. It started with returning NCAA champion David Taylor amassing an official 20-5 technical fall over Eric Hess in 5:46. By most scorekeeping on press row, Taylor had scored either 22 or 21. The confusion was probably because Taylor scored a flurry of points in the third.
Matt Brown wrestled as high as 197 last year, but his ability to grind opponents and teammates to exhaustion from the top position got him into the 174-pound spot. Ranked fourth, Brown made his debut at the weight a success, winning 12-2 over Nathaniel Brown.
The 184-pound between returning national champion Ed Ruth and third-ranked Robert Hamlin was going about as PSU planned when everything changed with a missed Ruth fireman's carry. With Ruth leading 9-4 in the second, he missed the takedown attempt and was taken down. Ruth escaped and was taken down again. He escaped to make the score 11-8 entering the third.
Hamlin escaped early in the third and nearly scored a takedown with under 30 seconds left, but Ruth, who moved up from 174 this season, fought off the attempt, and then another before the buzzer to win, 11-9.
"I think he started out incredible," Sanderson said. "I think he's so good, he can be a little sloppy, and you can't be sloppy with a guy like Robert Hamlin. He's going to make you pay for it."
Three-time All-American and returning NCAA runner-up Quentin Wright was a 10-4 winner over John Bolin in his first official bout at 197. Lehigh's Jack Delia closed out the night with a 5-3 win over Jon Gingrich at 285. Transfer Jimmy Lawson, who beat Gingrich is the first eliminations, will wrestle against the Mountaineers.
The Lions are looking forward to hitting the road.
"It's always exciting to go on a road trip with our team," English said. "We have a couple characters on our team. Sometimes I feel like it's elementary school on the bus. Our team just makes it fun."
125-Megaludis, PS, tech. fall Abreu, 20-4, 5:07; 133-Conaway, PS, dec. Gardner, 3-2; 141-Pearsall, PS, dec. Salupo, 7-6; 149-English, PS, dec. Welsh, 5-2; 157-Napoli, L, dec. D. Alton, 4-2.
165-Taylor, PS, tech. fall Hess, 20-5, 5:46; 174-Brown, PS, maj. dec. Brown, 12-2; 184-Ruth, PS, dec. Hamlin, 11-9; 197-Wright, PS, dec. Bolich, 10-4; 285-Delia, L, dec. Gingrich, 5-3.
Records: Lehigh (1-1); Penn State (1-0)