DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Penn State has all but clinched a third straight national title.
All that’s left for the powerhouse Nittany Lions is for David Taylor to defend the title that Cornell’s Kyle Dake has worked so hard to take.
Penn State had 114.5 points and a commanding 20.5-point lead over Oklahoma State heading into Saturday’s finals of the NCAA championships.
Minnesota is third in the team race with 86 points, followed by Iowa with 68.
The Nittany Lions also have five wrestlers set to compete for a title, including a surging Taylor.
He and Dake – who is one win away from becoming the third four-time NCAA champion – will meet up at 165 pounds in one of the most anticipated championship matches in recent memory.
“It’s pretty simple. He’s going to do something no one is going to do and I’m trying to do something that no one is going to do,” Taylor said.
Dake and Taylor couldn’t avoid each other Friday. A scheduling quirk had them competing on side-to-side mats in the quarters and the semifinals.
Taylor wasted little time making his presence felt to the crowd and his rival.
Taylor dropped Illinois’s Conrad Polz to the mat immediately and completed the pin in just 24 seconds – just as Dake was engaging Nick Sulzer of Virginia in the quarterfinals.
Dake methodically dismantled Sulzer 13-0. But that performance was lost amid Taylor’s ferocious performance, which even had the pro-Hawkeyes crowd buzzing.
Taylor qualified for the final with a pin of No. 3 seed Tyler Yates of Virginia Tech in 3:25. Dake was again less flashy, beating Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell 2-0.
“Obviously, he’s looking pretty good, but I’m not too worried about it,” Dake said about Taylor.
That’s a bit of an understatement considering that Taylor has pinned all four of his NCAA tournament opponents so far.
But Dake has outscored his foes 28-0 at the national meet and holds the edge over Taylor this season, beating him 3-2 on Jan. 2.
The final that wrestling fans have been waiting for since Dake moved up to Taylor’s weight class before this season has come to fruition.
“We both have that same, similar attitude where I’m taking away his dreams and he’s trying to take away mine. That’s just how it is. It comes with the sport,” Dake said.
Dake will be joined in Saturday’s finals by teammates Nico Megaludis (125), Matt Brown (174), Ed Ruth (184) and Quentin Wright (197).
Ohio State sophomore Logan Stieber will defend his title at 133 pounds against Iowa’s Tony Ramos, who survived two sudden victory frames before beating Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff 6-4.
Ramos was a rare bright spot for the disappointing Hawkeyes.
“Hard wrestling. No game plan,” Ramos said about facing Stieber. “You got to go out there and you’ve got to fight, fight and keep on fighting. That’s how I’m going to win.”
Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore will go for his second national title in three years against Wright in what promises to be one of the better finals of the last session.
Oklahoma Kendric Maple will be favored to win at 141 pounds and finish his season at 31-0. Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver will go for a second NCAA title at 149 pounds after winning the 2011 title at 133 pounds, but the Cowboys only advanced two wrestlers to the finals after a strong early showing.
The second Oklahoma State finalist, Chris Perry, was on the mat when the lights briefly dimmed. Perry and the rest of the athletes kept on wrestling though – a testament to the extraordinary focus of wrestlers during matches.
“It was kind of weird. It reminded me of the Super Bowl,” Perry said. “It was awkward, but you just kind of – when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone.”