Down 16-6 to their rival (Michigan) and without an actual victory to speak of (six points via forfeit), the Ohio State wrestling team found itself in desperate need of a spark last Friday night.
Bryce Hepner, the Buckeyes’ veteran 165-pounder, was tasked with attempting to provide said spark but instead proceeded to do the exact opposite... Temporarily. Rather than jumping out to a lead or scoring a much-needed pin, Hepner dug himself a seven-point hole and appeared to be well on his way to at least suffering a loss via major decision.
But then something clicked for Hepner. The fourth-year Buckeye never panicked, and he calmly waited for an opportunity to strike.
Down 10-7 near the end of the match, Hepner secured a cradle and turned it into a takedown and a near fall, completing a monster individual comeback while also setting the stage for a larger one (comeback) by his team. Hepner’s 12-10 victory only got OSU to within seven points, but more importantly, it seemed to have a positive and profound effect on younger Scarlet and Gray grapplers still set to compete.
Up next for Ohio State was true freshman Rocco Welsh at 174, and he wrestled Michigan’s Shane Griffith (ranked No. 4 at 174) to a 1-1 draw through two periods. Unfortunately, the former could never mount any significant offense, resulting in a 2-1 win via riding time for Griffith. But even in defeat, it was another solid outing for Welsh, whose only losses have come to individuals ranked No. 3 and No. 4 nationally in his weight class.
Down 10 team points for a second time in this dual – with only three matches remaining – the Buckeyes needed to make magic happen. And while OSU has plenty of talent at the heavier weight classes, Ryder Rogotzke (184), Luke Geog (197), and Nick Feldman (HWT) were all set to take on tough opponents.
In the case(s) of both Rogotzke and Feldman, they were facing Wolverines ranked much higher than themselves. But rankings can usually be thrown out the window when these two teams compete. On this night especially, they (individual rankings) possessed no meaning, and provided TTUN with no intimidation factor as Rogotzke and Co. went to work.
Taking on 15th-ranked Jaden Bullock of Michigan, Rogotzke (unranked) kickstarted Ohio State’s comeback by wrestling like a man possessed. The Buckeyes’ true freshman from Minnesota scored two takedowns and a tech fall in the first period alone, resulting in a massive 13-0 lead.
He would go on to add eight more points, eventually earning a 21-0 win by tech fall and closing the team gap to five points. With nine pins and an 11-3 overall record, Rogotzke has now seized control of the 184 gig for Tom Ryan’s squad.
Geog closed the team gap even further with a 9-4 victory over U-M’s Rylan Rogers. It was not quite the same dominating performance as Rogotzke’s, but OSU’s 197-pounder did control action throughout, preserving his undefeated record (3-0) in Big Ten duals. More importantly, Geog’s win paved the way for a “winner-take-dual” match between heavyweights...
Big, freaky athletes just throwing each other around with bragging rights on the line. It doesn’t get much better than that.
With the team score sitting at 19-17 in favor of the visitors, Nick Feldman needed any sort of victory to complete the Buckeyes’ ridiculous comeback. However, there was a large obstacle in his way in the form of fourth-ranked heavyweight Lucas Davison.
A grad transfer from Northwestern, Davison is a two-time All-American in his sixth season of competing in the Big Ten. So to say that he has had an advantage over Ohio State’s redshirt freshman – at least in terms of experience – would be a massive understatement. But Feldman was more than up for the challenge.
Tied 1-1 in the third period, Feldman was bloody but clearly not beaten. However, he needed to score points, and Davison was playing stout defense. So rather than taking a bad shot, the Buckeye big man practiced patience. And when Davison went for his left leg (or perhaps it was an attempted ankle pick), Feldman was ready.
He stuffed the takedown attempt, jumped on Davison’s back, and gained control just long enough to secure three points. Davison quickly escaped, but it was too late. Feldman won 4-3 and snatched a team victory from the jaws of defeat. Covelli went nuts, and the Buckeyes celebrated. What a dual.
Hopefully, the celebration did not last too long though, because OSU has a monster weekend ahead. Next up for Ryan’s squad is a road date with top-ranked Penn State, winners of... well, just about everything for the last decade plus.
The Buckeyes face the Nittany Lions on Friday evening (6:30 p.m. ET), followed by another roadie at Rutgers on Sunday afternoon (1:00 p.m. ET). Talk about a mini-gauntlet.
But such is life in the Big Ten. Ohio State has already proven itself to be a legitimate contender – whether for conference or NCAA honors – and this upcoming dual with Penn State should shine a light on just how close (if at all) the Buckeye are to reaching the top of the mountain.