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Nevills delivers to secure Lions’ victory

UNIVERSITY PARK — The ever-changing Penn State wrestling lineup returned to Rec Hall for the first dual meet in 2020 missing four starters against No. 24 Illinois, including defending NCAA 285-pound champion Anthony Cassar, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

Kyle Conel, the Kent State transfer, is also out for the season with a shoulder injury. Roman Bravo-Young and Vincenzo Joseph “were not cleared” to wrestle coach Cael Sanderson, who didn’t shed any light on whether they were injured or ill.

Austin Clabaugh (133), Konner Kraeszig (165) and Seth Nevills (285) made their Penn State debuts, and Shakur Rasheed (197) made his season debut Friday night.

With the No. 2 Nittany Lions holding a three-point lead, the match actually came down to Nevills, whose redshirt was pulled after Cassar was ruled out. Nevills, the younger brother of former PSU starter Nick Nevills, came through with a 6-3 victory to secure the Lions’ 22-16 win at Rec Hall.

“When you’re a heavyweight, you always think that it could happen,” Nevills said. “As the dual was going on, I could sense that it might come down to that, and it just kind of excited me. My first dual could mean a lot. I know it would mean a lot no matter what, but it was just icing on the cake.”

Sanderson wasn’t impressed with his 4-1 team as a whole in its Big Ten debut.

“I don’t think we should be thrilled with the way we wrestled,” he said. “The guys did a nice job of coming back and winning a match that we could have very easily could have lost under the circumstances. When you don’t have guys in the lineup, it’s hard to win tough matches. These guys sucked it up and found a way.”

“We had some opportunities I don’t think we took advantage of,” Illinois coach Jim Heffernan said, “but I think we wrestled OK. We were aggressive. So, we’re getting better.”

Penn State fans didn’t have much to cheer early on as Illinois’ Justin Cardani beat Brandon Meredith, 6-0, at 125 and Travis Piotrowski headlocked Clabaugh to his back and pinned him with 6 seconds left in the bout.

They finally got to cheer some as 141-pounder Nick Lee scored seven points in the third period on two takedowns, a reversal and a 1:27 riding time advantage to earn a 13-5 major decision over Dylan Duncan.

Jarod Verkleeren made it two in a row for the Lions with a 6-2 victory over Mousa Jodeh at 149.

But the momentum stopped when Eric Barone beat Bo Pipher, 5-2, at 157. The Illini (3-2) led, 12-7, at the break.

Danny Braunagel gave Kraeszig nothing to remember fondly about his debut in a 12-3 major decision. That extended the Illini’s lead to 16-7.

While fans wondered who some of the Penn State wrestlers were, they were glad to see Mark Hall take the mat at 174. Hall took Joey Gunther down six times, but more importantly, he had Gunther backing up. Referee Jim Rivello called Gunther for stalling five times. The fifth stalling call gave Hall a rare disqualification win in 6:40, making the score 16-13.

Aaron Brooks, who took over at 184 in December, took Zac Braunagel down four times en route to a 9-4 win. The crowd roared its approval with the score tied, 16-16.

“At 184, I thought that was a pivotal situation,” Heffernan said. “I thought if Braunagel gets another takedown, he might win. Brooks was way more aggressive than him early.

Rasheed, who suffered an ACL injury last season, was tentative in his debut against Matt Wroblewski. They wrestled scoreless on their feet for the first two periods, but Rasheed escaped and scored a late takedown when Wroblewski attempted a throw for a 3-0 win.

“He’s a little disappointed,” Sanderson said. “Shak likes to come out and put on a show.”

Nevills took a 3-0 lead over Luke Luffman into the third period, but he countered a takedown attempt with a takedown of his own to get some breathing room. Luffman escaped, but Nevills held on for a 6-3 win.

The Lions are back in action on Sunday at home against No. 12 Northwestern.

125–Cardani, I, dec. Meredith, 6-0; 133–Piotrowski, I, pinned Clabaugh, 6:54; 141–Lee, PS, maj. dec. Duncan, 13-5; 149–Verkleeren, PS, dec. Jodeh, 6-2; 157–Barone, I, dec. Pipher, 5-2.

165–D. Braunagel, I, maj. dec. Kraeszig, 12-3; 174–Hall, PS, wins by disqualification over Gunther, 6:40; 184–Brooks, PS, dec. Z. Braunagel, 9-4; 197–Rasheed, PS, dec. Wroblewski, 3-0; 285–Nevills, PS, dec. Luffman, 6-3.

Records: Illinois (3-2 overall, 0-1 in Big Ten), Penn State (4-1 overall, 1-0 in Big Ten)

Referee: Jim Rivello

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