In the dimly lit Cliff Keen Arena, fifth-year senior Tyrel Todd came out of the tunnel at a speed any sprinter would be proud of and met his weak-in-the-knees freshman opponent in the center of the mat.
This one meant a little more.
Todd scored a pin in a 31-6 win for No. 17 Michigan (4-1-1 Big Ten, 9-7-1 overall) over No. 24 Penn State (1-5-2, 8-11-2) on Senior Night. Three seniors were in the starting lineups for the Wolverines.
“I’ve thought about our senior night since my freshman year,” Todd said. “People ask you how you want to go out, and I couldn’t have pictured it much different.”
Todd’s fall came one minute and 38 seconds into his match. That is his third pin in as many matches and his team-leading ninth this season.
“I’m telling myself, ‘I’m pinning myself through the Big Ten, pinning my way through nationals,’ ” Todd said. “I’m getting pretty good with this head scoop, and guys know it’s coming. But they can’t stop it.”
The blowout was a welcome change for the Wolverines after Friday’s match, when No. 6 Ohio State overwhelmed the Wolverines 26-17 in a packed Cliff Keen Arena.
Michigan was up 14-8 more than halfway through the meet, but repeated cries of “O-H-I-O” filled the arena by the end of the match. The loss also snapped Michigan’s four-match unbeaten streak in the Big Ten.
“It was a little disappointing last night because at that halfway point, we felt like we were in control of the meet and it slipped away from us,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “To be able to come back tonight and wrestle the way we did and have the kind of score that we did is pretty impressive.”
The Wolverines’ other two starting seniors, Steve Luke and Michael Watts, finished their matches differently.
Luke, the top 174-pounder in the nation, established a three-point lead before allowing 16th-ranked Quentin Wright to take him down and get back into the match. But Luke scored an escape and kept his undefeated streak intact at 22 matches.
“I’ve won a lot of close matches in my college career,” Luke said. “I think that’s what separates the average wrestler from the good wrestler. You just have to figure out how to win matches.”
Watts, ranked 17th at 125 pounds, fell behind early but eventually came back.
After throwing his opponent to the ground with a thump loud enough for it to echo throughout the arena and bring the crowd to its feet, he scored two points for a near-fall to take a two-point lead.
But Penn State’s No. 13 Brad Pataky let that lead last only eleven seconds as he took the bout 11-9.
“(Watts) had struggled with him in those first periods,” McFarland said. “But Mike got himself back in that match, he just got caught in a cement mixer there at the end and lost a tough one.”
Michigan’s win seemed secondary in a night that seemed to revolve around just three people.
“Those three seniors that wrestled today, we’re proud to have them in our program.” McFarland said.