Hoffman wins for Bucknell as PSU cruises

Penn State's Zain Retherford, top, works for backpoints against Bucknell's Seth Hogue at 149 pounds Sunday. Retherford earned the fall in 4:14.

STATE COLLEGE — Garrett Hoffman turned toward his Bucknell teammates as the final horn sounded and pounded his right fist into his chest a couple times. The Montoursville graduate and Bucknell 197-pounder had seen countless matches at Penn State’s Rec Hall as a fan prior to Sunday’s dual against the Nittany Lions.

Yesterday he won a match on the same mat which he had seen so many other Penn State opponents lose. With his parents in the stands, he couldn’t help but get a little excited as one of just two Bison to win a bout against the top-ranked defending national champions.

The rest of the match went just about as expected. Penn State’s five returning national champions combined for 11 bonus points, and the Nittany Lions recorded nearly 50 takedowns in a 36-6 win over Bucknell.

Hoffman put maybe the liveliest energy into an otherwise dormant Rec Hall crowd Sunday, mainly because he was one of two Bucknell wrestlers to really put a challenge into their opponents. Hoffman, who is competing for injured three-time NCAA qualifier Tom Sleigh at 197 pounds, opened up a 7-2 lead on Anthony Cassar before holding on late to win, 11-8.

“I never thought I’d wrestle here. This environment is one of a kind. It’s kind of cool,” Hoffman said. “I was in the back warming up and I remembered coming here with my parents and watching Luke Frey wrestle here, and he was one of my role models. When I ran out there, all I could think was this is really happening and it’s awesome.”

After watching Cassar’s match against Army on Thursday night, Hoffman said he was most concerned about Cassar’s re-attacks. But it was Hoffman who used his own re-attacks to pick up two takedowns against Cassar and build a 7-2 lead after two periods.

Halfway through the first period Cassar got a clean shot at Hoffman’s legs, but Hoffman avoided the shot and quickly lunged back at Cassar, grabbing hold of an ankle and turning it into a takedown. Hoffman pushed the lead to 3-0 with an escape to start the second period. And with a 4-2 lead, Cassar again got deep on a single, hanging on to the knee as the two went to the mat near the edge of the circle. Hoffman freed his leg and performed a quick spin move to get behind Cassar for the takedown.

Bucknell had just four takedowns yesterday, Hoffman had half of them.

“Once I felt his first shot and I felt where his set-up was coming from, I could anticipate it,” Hoffman said. “As soon as I felt the first shot, I shot right into my single and was able to get it quick. The second one I wasn’t as quick to get, but I could feel him drop his head so I got on that shin whizzer and did a little tornado thing back into him. I’m a big momentum guy, and when I see my opponents break, that’s when I really get going.”

“One of the things I know about being around him for the last year-plus is when the lights come on he’s here to compete,” Bucknell head coach Dan Wirnsberger said. “He’s ready for any challenge that is thrown his way and he fights hard.”

Hoffman was originally planning to likely not compete this season after growing in the offseason and not being able to get back down to 184 pounds. But Sleigh was injured last week during a dual against CSU-Bakersfield. Hoffman said he was about 210 pounds and was able to steadily work his way down to 197 for Friday night’s dual against Lehigh.

He was able to maintain that weight through an off-day and looked strong in picking up his first win of the season. On the flip side, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said Cassar didn’t manage his weight well between Thursday’s match and yesterday’s, and it was what led to the first-year starter getting worn down late in the bout.

“The first thing I noticed is he looked about twice my size,” Hoffman said. “But with guys like that it takes them longer to get moving and those guys will gas a lot faster. So I knew I needed to keep pushing the pace. When I got the first takedown, I saw he wasn’t fighting to get off bottom and I knew I could break him pretty quick.”

“This is (Cassar’s) first weekend of wrestling in two years. He has a lot of things to learn about getting back into competition,” Sanderson said. “It’s about having that weight where you want it so you’re ready for a 2 p.m. Sunday match as opposed to a Friday night match. He lost a couple of scrambles early and he has to get off the bottom. He’s actually pretty darn good there, but that’s why he lost, he spent a lot of time on his belly. But I think that has to do with weight management more than anything else.”

Bucknell’s only other win came from true freshman Jake Campbell in the opening bout at 125 pounds. He scored the opening takedown with 55 seconds left in the first period and then fought off a deep single-leg takedown attempt from Penn State’s Devin Schnupp late in the third period to hang on for the 3-1 win.

But outside of those two bouts, Penn State cruised. The only other takedown the Nittany Lions gave up outside of those Bucknell wins was a meaningless takedown by Seth Hogue against Zain Retherford as Retherford was working on a new move.

Jason Nolf had seven takedowns before picking up a fall. Cenzo Joseph had 10 takedowns on his way to a technical fall over D.J. Hollingshead. Mark Hall had eight takedowns in a technical fall over Nick Stephani, and Bo Nickal had seven in a major decision over Drew Phipps.

Penn State finished with a 49-4 advantage in takedowns despite not recording one in the opening bout.

“We were having fun and doing what we do,” said Retherford, who recorded his 37th career fall. “In the first two home dual meets, we’re just being ourselves. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

An anticipated matchup between 10th-ranked Tyler Smith of Bucknell and Jered Cortez never materialized at 141 pounds as Wirnsberger held out Smith, who was dinged up in Friday’s match against Lehigh. In fact, Wirnsberger said part of the reason for scheduling Penn State early in the season as part of a brutal opening two weeks was to get quality competition for both Smith and Sleigh, who were both out with injuries.

Bucknell fell to 0-4 with the loss, having lost to three teams (Edinboro, Lehigh, Penn State) all ranked in the top 20 in the country.

“Once we get past this part of this section of our schedule, it’s the easy part,” Hoffman said with a laugh. “I know it’s crazy to say there’s an easy part of a D1 schedule, but compared to this, it doesn’t get much harder than wrestling here.”

Penn State 36, Bucknell 6

125: Jake Campbell, B, dec. Devin Schnupp, 3-1. 133: Corey Keener, P, maj. dec. David Campbell, 12-4. 141: Jered Cortez, P, dec. Matt Kolonia, 10-4. 149: Zain Retherford, P, pinned Seth Hogue, 4:14. 157: Jason Nolf, P, pinned Christian Bassolino, 3:33. 165: Cenzo Joseph, P, tech. fall D.J. Hollingshead, 24-8, 6:30. 174: Mark Hall, P, tech. fall Nick Stephani, 22-6, 6:50. 184: Bo Nickal, P, maj. dec. Drew Phipps, 15-6. 197: Garrett Hoffman, B, dec. Anthony Cassar, 11-8. 285: Nick Nevills, P, dec. Eric Chakonis, 11-4.

Takedowns: Penn State 49, Bucknell 4. Ridge Riley Award: Zain Retherford.

Records: Penn State (2-0); Bucknell (0-4).