UNIVERSITY PARK - It was a split decision in the Alton twins' return to the Penn State wrestling lineup on Sunday afternoon against Nebraska.
The Altons, Andrew and Dylan, had been serving a 30-day suspension for a pre-Christmas fight in Lock Haven, but after narrowly defeating their backups, 149-pounder James English and 157-pounder James Vollrath, in eliminations, they were back for a whiteout before 6,618 fans in Rec Hall.
Third-ranked 149-pounder Andrew Alton faded after a fast start and was pinned by 12th-ranked Jake Sueflohn in 5:33, but sixth-ranked 157-pounder Dylan Alton scored a late takedown of fourth-ranked James Green to win, 3-1, and help the top-ranked Nittany Lions, wearing white singlets, beat the 12th-ranked Cornhuskers, 33-9.
"Obviously, Andrew wasn't himself," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. "Why that is, we'll figure that out. A lot of it is a mental game, obviously. I think he needs some time to get back to where he wants to be, and he can do that in a snap of the fingers or it can take a few matches. He's in good shape. He trains hard. When he's enjoying himself, he's so smooth and talented that he can score from any position. But you could see in his face he wasn't all there today.
"Dylan knew he had a big match, and he did a great job. His conditioning was something that he wanted to use to his advantage, I think, in those tight matches. James Green is a very good wrestler. They've wrestled three times, and all three matches have been very similar."
Andrew Alton scored a first-period takedown and tilted Sueflohn for two points and a 4-0 lead. He was leading 5-1 in the second when Sueflohn took him down, and a little later he received a stalling point to make it 5-4. Alton appeared dead tired after two periods, and in the third, Sueflohn reversed, put Alton on his back and pinned him.
His brother looked a lot more fresh, especially when he threw Green to his back in the first period. The referee waved off the takedown and back points, and a furious Sanderson protested and called for a video review. For the second time this season, Sanderson lost on a video review.
"It's a close call," Sanderson said, "and it's our right to have them review it. You've got to fight for what you believe in."
The score was tied, 1-1, in the third period, when Alton took Green down with 13 seconds left and kept him down the rest of the way. Alton raised his hands and pumped his fist in celebration to the roaring crowd. Alton was later voted the winner of the Ridge Riley Award.
"He shot, and I reshot," Alton said. "I got my angle that I wanted, and I just did a go-behind. I've just been training the last month, always moving forward and working toward my goal of being a national champion."
It wasn't the first time the crowd roared its approval. After second-ranked Nico Megaludis won by forfeit at 125, Jordan Conaway again thrilled the home crowd with his third-period wrestling against Shawn Nagel at 133. Conaway took a 3-2 lead into the third period, but a reversal, three takedowns, two back points and a riding point later, he earned a 14-5 major decision.
"He started opening up a little and taking shots, and I was able to score off of his shots," Conaway said. "He was fading, but I think he was trying to get a quick score. [The crowd reaction] is awesome. They like how I wrestle, and it helps me to keep wrestling that way."
Bryan Pearsall made a third-period escape and riding point stand in a 2-0 win over Ridge Kiley at 141, setting up the Altons.
After the break, second-ranked David Taylor rolled up a 16-1 technical fall over Tyler Koehn at 165 to set up a bout between PSU's third-ranked Matt Brown and Nebraska's fourth-ranked Robert Kokesh at 174. Kokesh won, 10-7, but Brown needed about 5 more seconds on the clock as he put the Cornhusker on his back just before the buzzer.
At 184, PSU's top-ranked Ed Ruth couldn't hit his deadly cradle on eighth-ranked Josh Ihmen, but he was able to title Ihmen three times in the third period to finish off an 18-3 technical fall. All three tilts were rare, as they started with both wrestlers standing and Ruth in control.
"I guess he was kind of schooled in [defending the cradle], but good thing he wasn't schooled in the tilt," Ruth said, drawing laughs from reporters.
"He's very good at that," Sanderson said. "He's got such a great grip that he can do that. That's certainly not something we work on in practice. That's just Ruth."
PSU 197-pounder Quentin Wright scored five points in the third period against Caleb Kolb, a 2009 PIAA Class AA state champion for Grove City, including a takedown with 21 seconds left and riding time to earn a 10-2 major decision.
Jon Gingrich finally wrestled somebody smaller than him in Spencer Johnson at 285, but the score was tied, 3-3, after two periods. But, an escape and takedown in the third broke it open for Gingrich in his 7-4 win.
The Lions (8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten) will be back in action Friday in a big match against fourth-ranked Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes are 15-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten and are coming off of a 16-15 win over third-ranked Minnesota on Saturday. The match will be carried live by the Big Ten Network at 9 p.m.
"I'm excited about it," Sanderson said. "We're fortunate to have that atmosphere here. I love Carver-Hawkeye. The last year I was at Iowa State, they had 16,000 fans there, and it was the record, but it wasn't the noisiest time because we wrestled pretty good. I'm excited for these guys because it's a challenge. We need to be challenged. These guys thrive on that."
125-Megaludis, PS, won by forfeit; 133-Conaway, PS, maj. dec. Nagel, 14-5; 141-Pearsall, PS, dec. Kiley, 2-0; 149-Sueflohn, N, pinned A. Alton, 5:33; 157-D. Alton, PS, dec. Green, 3-1.
165-Taylor, PS, tech. fall Koehn, 16-1, 5:09; 174-Kokesh, N, dec. Brown, 10-7; 184-Ruth, PS, tech. fall Ihmen, 18-3, 7:00; 197-Wright, PS, maj. dec. Kolb, 10-2; 285-Gingrich, PS, dec. Johnson, 7-4.
Records: Nebraska (9-4 overall, 3-3 in Big Ten); Penn State (8-0 overall, 5-0 in Big Ten)