DES MOINES, Iowa — Cornell senior Kyle Dake chose the toughest possible path to history.
By betting on himself, Dake is in a class all his own.
Dake became the first wrestler in NCAA history to win four national titles at four weights Saturday night, and Penn State won the national championship for the third year in a row.
The 165-pound Dake beat defending champion David Taylor of Penn State 5-4, joining Cael Sanderson and Pat Smith as four-time NCAA champions.
“Kind of at a loss for words. Definitely amazing feeling. It’s just you get to finally see all your hard work pay off,” Dake said.
Penn State’s Ed Ruth and Quentin Wright won titles in back-to-back matches to seal the fourth national crown for the Nittany Lions and their third under Sanderson.
Penn State had 123.5 points. Oklahoma State was second with 119.5 and Minnesota third with 103 points.
But the team race took a backseat to Dake.
Wrestling fans had been salivating over the idea of a Dake-Taylor final since the day Dake announced his move to 165 pounds in the offseason.
Dake had won titles at 141, 149 and 157 pounds. He boldly jumped up a class knowing that Taylor, the 2012 Hodge Trophy winner as the nation’s best wrestler, stood in his path.
The NCAA shifted its schedule to make the 165-pound matchup the finale, presumably to maximize a probable Dake-Taylor meeting.
It didn’t disappoint.
Taylor took down Dake in 18 seconds for a quick 2-0 lead, but Dake answered with a takedown and an escape to jump ahead 4-2 after two periods.
Dake was called for a late stall, tying it at 4, but he used his advantage in riding time to close out Taylor.
“Each weight class was a different obstacle, different challenges, and I just had to adapt. My ability to adapt really, really helped me accomplish that,” Dake said.
Even though Taylor fell short, his teammates did not.
Penn State wrapped up the team crown when Wright upset top-seeded Dustin Kilgore of Kent State 8-6 at 197 pounds, giving the Nittany Lions an insurmountable lead over Oklahoma State.
Wright sealed the victory with a pair of impressive late takedowns of Kilgore, an NCAA champion in 2011 who had won 62 straight matches.
“I knew one of us had to take it upon our shoulders to get it and I thought ‘Why not me? Let’s go out there. Let’s win this,” Wright said.
Penn State began the day with a virtual lock on the title.
The Cowboys nearly stole the crown away.
Penn State held a 20.5-point lead over Oklahoma State to start Saturday’s competition. But the Nittany Lions didn’t have anyone who earned spots in Saturday morning’s wrestleback session, and the Cowboys made up 17.5 points to cut the deficit to 114.5-111.5.
Chris Perry then gave Oklahoma State a one-point lead with a win over Penn State’s Matt Brown in the first title match, the 174-pound finals.
The Cowboys only held the lead for about 15 minutes, though.
They never got it back.
Ruth won his second straight national title with a 12-4 win over Robert Hamlin of Lehigh. Ruth finished with a takedown to clinch a major decision, giving the Nittany Lions a crucial extra team point.
“I looked over at the coaches and (they) were just saying ‘Cut him. Cut him.’ I was like, ‘Oh wow, he must be going for a major then,’” Ruth said.
Jesse Delgado became the first 125-pound champion for Illinois, while Ohio State Logan Stieber won his second NCAA title at 133 pounds. Oklahoma’s Kendrick Maple finished an unbeaten season with his first national crown at 141 pounds.
Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver scored a takedown in the final 12 seconds to beat Boise State’s Jason Chamberlain 3-2 at 149 pounds. Iowa’s Derek St. John gave the Hawkeyes their lone national champion at 157 pounds.
Minnesota heavyweight Tony Nelson repeated as the national champion.
This was the first NCAA meet since the International Olympic Committee’s recommendation that wrestling not be included in the 2020 Games.
There’s since been a lot of talk about modernizing a sport rooted in antiquity — and upgraded wrestler introductions for the finals were a big hit to the sellout crowd.
The athletes burst through puffs of smoke amid dimmed lights and blaring heavy metal music, their names displayed with colorful lighting. The end of every finals match was marked by four plumes of smoke emanating from each corner of the stage.
The final bursts of white smoke blew for Dake, who finished a brilliant career with an unprecedented title.
“The college wrestling book, I finished it. I finished it with coming out on top,” Dake said.