MADISON, Wis. – A stream of blood shot across Ed Ruth’s left hand Sunday afternoon while beads of sweat trickled down his face moments after pulling Penn State across the victory line in a two-day tug-of-war for the Big Ten title.
Iowa couldn’t yank the conference crown away from the Nittany Lions, but the Hawkeyes made Penn State sweat and bleed for its fourth straight title at the Big Ten Championships.
With major-decision victories in championship bouts against Iowa opponents, David Taylor and Ruth became the first teammates in the league’s 100-year history to win their fourth Big Ten individual titles on the same day. The seniors who have combined for 112 victories and no losses against conference foes scored the go-ahead and clinching team points that led to the final outcome: Penn State 140.5, Iowa 135.
Nine Hawkeyes finished fifth or better and secured automatic qualifying berths to the NCAA Championships, and Tony Ramos ended three years of final-round frustration. But Iowa came up a couple victories short or prying the title away from the Nittany Lions.
“I believe we have a team to win it here, and I believe we have a team to win it in a couple weeks and that’s how you go forward,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “That’s what our next mission is, and we’ve got to get ready for the next tournament. Even if we come out on top, there’s things to work on and there’s things to work on now. It’s the same either way. We’ve got to go to work. We’re on a mission.”
Ramos had spent countless days studying the wall inside Iowa’s practice room where each of the program’s Big Ten champions are listed in gold name plates. After two conference runner-up finishes, he finally moved himself into champion category, holding Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff down long enough in the third period to secure a riding-time point and a 2-1 win at 133.
“Huge weight lifted,” Ramos said. “For me, it shows you can win the big ones. You can win big titles, you can win big tournaments. I’m ready to go (for the national tournament) and I’m relieved. The stress is gone a little bit.”
The Ramos victory put the Hawkeyes ahead in the team race, but Iowa couldn’t add to its title count.
Nebraska’s James Green seized control of the 157-pound championship bout with a double-leg takedown in the opening minute and never trailed in a 6-4 win against Iowa senior Derek St. John.
Taylor hauled home the Big Ten wrestler of the year award for the third time and claimed the tournament’s outstanding wrestler award after a 14-5 major decision against Iowa’s Nick Moore at 165. It was Taylor’s 52nd bonus-point victory in 56 career matches against a Big Ten opponent.
“I’ve had the same mentality since I was 8 years old, and I’ve tried to keep that as I went through high school and college,” he said. “There’s always that moment when you’re like, ‘Maybe I’ll win by a couple points.’ But there’s a time in a match where you can win by a couple, or you can win by eight.”
Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh fought off a pair of shots by Iowa’s Mike Evans in the closing seconds and hung on for a 6-4 win at 174.
Ruth, the 13th four-time champion in Big Ten history, struck six seconds into the match for the first of his four takedowns during a 10-2 major decision at 184 against Iowa’s Ethen Lofthouse.
“What I’ve trained for my whole life is winning tournaments,” Lofthouse said. “I don’t like to take a back seat to anybody. There’s no moral victory (in placing second).”
The Hawkeyes have one more shot at the Nittany Lions later this month in Oklahoma City. Penn State earned automatic qualifying spots for the national tournament at all 10 weights. Iowa will find out Wednesday if 149-pounder Brody Grothus will earn an at-large berth to give the Hawkeyes a full lineup at the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2010.
“We’ve got to be strong, and we’ve got to go forward,” Brands said. “We’ve got the team for that. We’ve got the mental makeup with this team, and we’ve got the emotional makeup for that with this team. We’ve got a lot of good guys.”