PHILADELPHIA -- After a disheartening morning session in which Penn State lost a pair of matches due to injury default, the Nittany Lions came roaring back Friday night, and forged a commanding team lead.
With a home-state advantage and a total of 92.5 points, ahead of second-place Cornell (75), Penn State has become the story of the NCAA championships at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Nittany Lions, who last won a title in 1953, had seven wrestlers alive at the quarterfinal round. But when both Edward Ruth (171) and Cameron Wade (285) suffered knee injuries, the pursuit of a team title seemed in jeopardy.
That said, Penn State recovered and put Frank Molinaro (149), David Taylor (157) and Quentin Wright (184), who picked up bonus points with a pin of Iowa's Grant Gambrall in 3:53, into Saturday night's finals.
And suddenly, the title chase was back on.
"The kids have heart and they want to do well here," said Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, who won four titles while at Iowa State. "I'm proud of these guys, but there is still a lot of wrestling ahead of us.
"We want our best performance and our best effort in this tournament. We've had some hard disappointments to take, but we have three in the finals. It's the nature of the beast, that in a tournament like this, you are going to have some disappointments, but some successes as well."
Iowa, in pursuit of its fourth consecutive title and 24th overall, are a distant third with 74 points. Oklahoma State (65.5) is fourth.
"I don't know what the points are right now, but this round is going to pretty much give us an idea of what we have to do to win," said Molinaro, the No. 2 seed who beat Boise State's Jason Chamberlain 4-1 to set up a finals showdown with fourth-seeded Kyle Dake of Cornell. "It was a similar situation at the Big 10 [tournament], going into that last placing round. We knew we had to win every match, and we knew we had to score bonus points and come up big."
Cornell stayed close for a bit. But a pair of losses at 184 by Steve Bosak and 197 by top-seeded Cam Simaz put the Big Red in second.
Nebraska's Jordan Burroughs, on the individual side, is making the most of his return home. The Cornhuskers senior is a native of Winslow Township, N.J., just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. He continued his dominant run through the 165-pound weight class, with a 14-6 decision over Ohio State's Colt Sponseller. Burroughs, who has won 71 consecutive bouts and is 35-0 this season, has two tech falls to his credit in the tournament. He will be the favorite against Oklahoma's Tyler Caldwell on Saturday.
"I wrestle anyone who puts their foot out there on the line this weekend. I'm ready to dominate," Burroughs said. "I wrestled [Caldwell] twice this year, and I know he's going to be out there. I'll wrestle him hard. It's tough to beat a guy three times in the same season. He's going to be gunning for me. He's got technique and it's going to be a great match. I want to give the fans something that they paid a lot of money for."
At 125, Arizona State's Anthony Robles, who was born without a right leg, beat Utah Valley's Ben Kjar 4-2. Kjar entered the semifinals with the distinction of being the only unseeded wrestler still in pursuit of a title. But Robles proved too tough.
"I'm just going to keep preparing like I have all year," said Robles, a three-time All-American who is now a perfect 35-0 this season. "I had it, in my mind, that I wanted to be a national champion. I trained for that. I went into every match like it was a national finals match."
Robles will face No. 2 seed Matt McDonough of Iowa, a 3-1 winner over Northwestern's Brandon Precin.
At 133, Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver and Boise State's Andrew Hochstrasser, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, kept pace to meet each other in the final with a pair of decision wins over Wisconsin's Tyler Graff and Penn State's Andrew Long, respectively.
In a mild upset, third-seeded Boris Novachkov of Cal-Poly handled second-seeded Michael Thorn of Minnesota 9-3 to set the stage for a match against Michigan's Kellen Russell. Russell, the top seed, used 18 seconds of riding time in the second tiebreaker for a win over Iowa's Montell Marion.
The attendance also continues to be a storyline in Philadelphia. The day session drew 17,289, while the night was watched by 17,340.