This is the tale of two Santa’s. In fact this is the story of the David Santa and the Goliath Santa. Back in the day the Goliath Santa had his busy elves build lots of fancy toys. Goliath Santa asked the elves to wrap some of the shiny new toys in fancy wrapper and put them in the storage closet just outside the Lorenzo Wrestling complex. And he went about his business. His business was building depth in the Nittany Lion wrestling room. His business was polishing those toys that did not get stored in the closet. His business was short term pain for long term gain and so Goliath Santa did not earn another NCAA championship last year. In fact, for any Rec Hall crazy, the loss to the Buckeyes had to sting them and led to much whispering about what Goliath Santa, aka Cael Sanderson, was doing with all of his toys. Why did he not deliver them to his fanatics for another title? But as most good little children know, you don’t question Santa and you especially don’t question Goliath Santa, or Cael Sandersen.
As Goliath Santa was oiling his new toys in the preseason, a jovial young Santa, David Santa, aka Scott Moore, was quietly ordering supplies for his workshop. He took over the workshop a couple years ago and began to order lots of new material for his elves to build a power house. And the chief elf, Steve Fittery took to the challenge like, well, like Santa to a sugar cookie. The material arrived in new recruits. The jovial David Santa engineered lots of motivation, pain, and suffering. Elf Fittery followed the directions. They continue to order new supplies as new recruits but they had no luxury of storing their toys for some future date.
So tonight David Santa from Lock Haven brought elf Fittery and his new toys down I-99 to historic Rec Hall to compare their newly minted toys with that of Goliath Santa, Cael Sandersen. The kids waited anxiously as thousands of them poured into the venue in hopes of seeing Goliath Santa’s new toys. Nobody really gave much thought to David’s Santa’s workshop creations that were brewing just outside the shadow of Mt. Nittany. And something funny happened along the way to the unwrapping. One of the most important toys stored in Cael’s closet was unwrapped, and don’t you know the darn thing was broken. There would be no stud HWT for the Blue and White on this night. Not to worry if you are Goliath Santa. You call the football team and request one of their toys, at least for the balance of this year. And so James Franklin, the football elf, delivered one Jan Johnson, a shiny new freshman walk-on with a trophy case of wrestling medals bestowed by the PIAA. The kids in blue and white would not miss the HWT toy that was in the Lorenzo Center closet for more than a year. That always happens to Goliath Santa.
Scott Moore, the David Santa, was hopeful as the match began at 125#. Goliath Santa, Cael Sandersen brought his new toys to the arena and blew off the dust. The kids dressed in blue and white cheered as the toys were unwrapped one weight class at a time. Following is what the kids found from both Santa’s in a weight-by-weight comparison.
Nico Megalidis, one of those toys stored in the wrestling center closet was unwrapped in front of the capacity crowd. Ranked #2, Megaludis wasted little time in earning 4td’s and 2 near fall points to push the score to 10-3 after one against Jake Field. He kept up the pace and scored the Fall at 6:06 to stake the Nittany Lions to a 6-0 lead and on this night, that would be enough. The kids in blue roared their approval just as though they were opening presents on Christmas morning. Mommy, I love my new Nico toy. Thanks Santa Cael.
#8 Jordan Conaway returned for his final campaign and something funny happened on the way to a victory. Nobody told LHU’s Bobby Rehm that he came from David Santa’s workshop so he promptly punched Jordan in the mouth with a quick takedown and a 2-0 lead. Conaway, now paying attention went to work and when the ref was done with his four count against Rehm, the crowd was yelling 3, 3 points for the Nittany Lion. They were even more confused when the scorekeeper added 4 for the nearfall and the fellow next to me eased his elbow into my side and asked me to explain the new rule. It’s simple really. A four count earns 4 points in this NCAA season. And so Conaway turned it up to earn a 19-4 tech fall and the rout was on. Penn State 11 LHU 0
The most anticipated match of the night saw two returning All-Americans take center stage. #2 Jimmy Gulibon was cautious in the first period as Neff wore out Gulibon’s neck with heavy hands and snap downs. By the second period Gulibon would do his best to stay away from Neff’s neck attack and mid way through the third period it was tied at 1-1. Finally, with a full blown “neck ache” Gulibon took and shot, hit the single and trotted off to fanfare with a 3-1 victory over David Santa’s best. PSU 14 LHU 0
The kids in blue and white roared their approval as the first of four consecutive toys that spent last year in the Lorenzo Center closet took to center stage in Rec Hall. #2 Zain Retherford hit a ho-hum quick 2 point takedown to get the gala started and it seemed to knock the rust off. Zain cut Cody Wheeler and immediately hit an angry double slamming the Bald Eagle to the mat with force that could be heard in the SRO section high atop the running track in Rec Hall. Zain seemed to be genuinely angry that his talents have been gathering dust in the closet and a now angry Zain was salving that wound with brutality. Wheeler didn’t have a chance on this night and Retherford scored the Fall at 2:14 to stake the Lions to a 20-0 lead.
The dust was falling off #7 Jason Nolf as Santa Cael slapped his latest toy and sent him out to the circle. A hungry Nolf wasted little time building a quick 4-2 lead over Aaron McKinney. And then with a bit of anger and a brutality a tight cradle ended the match with the Fall at 2:22 sending the kids running for the popcorn stand with their Goliath Santa toys leading 26-0
Goliath Santa sent out another toy that was in storage last season. Many expected to see native Chambersburg grappler Garrett Hammond but Santa Cael sent out Shakur Rasheed. Wait who? Relax kids he has been wrapped neatly for the past year and Goliath Santa didn’t win four national championships by accident. Rasheed wasted little time in dropping down on the local kids knee for a 2-0 lead. Dillon Gavlock, the local kid from Central Mountain high school was writhing in pain grabbing the knee that Rasheed had just blown up. Injury default and the blue and white clad kids were a bit befuddled not knowing what they had in their new 165# toy. PSU 32 LHU 0
Booooooooo Nickal the announcer boomed. The lanky hard-nosed red head from the Lone Star state took center stage for his first varsity dual meet. The kids approved as they gave Bo a Texas-sized welcome. David Santa sent out Tyler Wood to teach the Texan a lesson. It was a workman-like performance for Nickal as he warmed-up the first period with a 4-2 lead. He felt pretty good and kept the scorekeeper busy rolling up a 21-6 Tech fall. What’d ya know ya’ll. The Texas toy fresh out of storage knows how to wrestle. PSU 37-0 LHU 0
Both Santa Cael and Santa Scott sent out a former PIAA State Champion to resolve the dispute at 184#. Tristan Sponseller, the Bermudian Springs grappler had to like his chances against Matt McCutcheon but he started out very tentative. No commitment to the high crotch that works so well for him. McCutcheon showed no lack of commitment as he built a 6-1 first period lead and then 12-3 midway through the match. In the third period Sponseller tried a half-hearted duck under from his knees and McCutcheon bulldozed him to his back. The Lion wrestler grabbed a knee and threw in a funky half. Oh the knee. McCutcheon pulled on the knee to the point that it looked like it might rupture and blow bone and tendon to the Rec Hall ceiling. The question now was at what point would the Bald Eagle kid give into the agony of the knee and allow the half to go deep and end the match with the Fall. Come on kid. Just give in before the knee blows up. And mercifully, at 5:46 the ref slapped the mat and the agony was over. This whole toy opening thing was going pretty well for Santa Cael and the kids in the closet. PSU 43 LJU 0
Stud alert! #1 Morgan McIntosh, a known entity was high-fiving Goliath Santa and running out on the mat to face unranked Phil Sprenkle. The kids in blue were expecting a quick fall and showed some restlessness as the clock expired in the second period with Sprenkle looking at the lights. No Fall but that McIntosh kid is freaking strong. With brute force and one arm across the face, he turned Sprenkle and held him tantalizing close to the mat. It is said in this sport that technique beats strength but if you are Morgan strong it doesn’t matter. The Bald Eagle survived seven minutes with Charles Atlas as McIntosh rolled to the 13-2 MD. PSU 47 LHU 0
When Santa Cael unwrapped his Cali inspired HWT toy it turns out it was broken and there was little time to fix him so Santa Cael grabbed Jan Johnson from the football team. And what a position to be in. In Happy Valley, you obtain hero status if you lace up the black high tops and sprint up and down Beaver Stadium. But, this young man had the opportunity to be a Nittany Lion god. The two-time state champ from Governor Mifflin jogged on to the mat to a hero’s welcome, and it was said that a few co-eds fainted as the young man shook hands with Brad Emerick. 4 slide-by attempts later there was still no score. It was clear the hero in the making was not tying up with the bigger Emerick. In the second period the middle linebacker in a singlet remembered it was legal to grab a leg and so he did. Boom. Up 3-1 and just like that the crowd was whispering trying to find a name equal to Greek god status. But Emerick didn’t hear the whispers and hit a solid double scoring a two to take the lead, but wait. On this night the gridiron gladiator would not be denied so the ref waved off the two. In the third, both big guys just wanted a Gatorade and a cookie because neither young man had the energy to do anything.
Look at that. A hero was born. With the 3-2 victory the linebacker that saved “Dear Old State” was bestowed hero status. Doesn’t matter that there are eight highly ranked studs on the team. The gridiron gladiator was given all the accolades and the MVP of the dual. As the cheerleaders swept the floor in front of the new hero, the co-eds could be heard arguing about what Greek god worthy name they would bestow on the young man. Ever humble in victory, young Johnson holds the immortal status of Rec Hall conqueror and Gridiron Gladiator. What more could a freshman ask for? PSU 50 LHU 0
And the takeaways from this dual are clear. It is hard to take down Goliath. Santa Cael is happy his new toys work well and will be off to Blacksburg for a good dual on Sunday against the Hokies.
The 4 point nearfall will increase scoring this year and you better not get turned. The fans will eventually catch on.
Leg attacks work in this sport. The Bald Eagles managed a single leg attack takedown in 10 bouts. The Nittany Lions rolled up 36 of them. That is a stat that will wipe the smile from a jovial Santa Scott for the Bald Eagles.
As they whisked up I-99 north, some thought they heard “…..and to all a good night” coming from the Haven bus but others said it was Santa Scott calling the elf’s in the wrestling room to turn on the lights. There is much work to do and we might as well start tonight is the rumor. Don’t fall asleep on David Santa and Coach Moore and Fittery. The tinkering in the workshop will continue and one day soon the result at Rec Hall will be completely different.