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Cowboy Wrestling: Five Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 22-12 Win against No. 4 NC State

It was the Pokes’ first top-5 win since 2019.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

When Oklahoma State finished a program-worst 18th at last season’s NCAA championship, John Smith said things needed to change. Friday night was evidence of a transformation.

The Cowboys went to Raleigh and upset No. 4 NC State 22-12 while winning seven of 10 matches. It was OSU’s first win over a top-5 team since beating No. 3 Iowa 27-13 on Feb. 24, 2019, in Gallagher-Iba Arena. The Cowboys were actually the favorites in that dual, ranked second, compared to entering Friday night’s bout at No. 9.

Getting its biggest win of the season so far, OSU remained unbeaten at 5-0, while NC State dropped to 9-2 with another loss to then-No. 10 Ohio State in its last outing last month.

Here are five thoughts on the Cowboys’ upset.

1. Needed Start

What a start for the Cowboys, and I’m not necessarily talking about the 5-0 record.

OSU began the road dual up 7-0 thanks to a decision from Troy Spratley and bonus points from Daton Fix. That was huge in silencing the crowd and killing the momentum of a top-5 team.

Spratley, a redshirt freshman, beat Jakob Camacho 7-2 in a top-20 matchup at 125 pounds. Not to be outdone by the young pup, Fix, a seventh-year senior, earned OSU’s only bonus points with an 11-3 major decision against fifth-ranked Kai Orine in a top-5 pairing.

The Cowboys have been missing a jolt before Fix in the lineup since Nick Piccininni was at 125 pounds during the 2018-19 season, Fix’s first season in the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman. Coincidentally (or not), that was also the last time OSU beat a top-5 team when the Cowboys upended No. 3 Iowa in Stillwater. That dual started with Piccininni pinning defending national champion Spencer Lee, igniting a sellout crowd at GIA and setting the tone for his team. It wasn’t on the same level, but Spratley did the same for his team Friday. And Daton Fix stepping on the mat already with a lead and momentum is deadly.

Without their 125 pounders, I’m not so sure the Pokes secure their last two top-5 victories, so getting another sparkplug at the weight is huge for this 2023-24 squad.

2. The Swing Match

I no longer wondered if the Pokes were going to pull it off or not after the 157-pound match.

Both teams exchanged a decision and major decision to tie the dual at 7-7 after four weights. The Wolfpack had won back-to-back matches, stole the momentum, excited the crowd, and looked to be a match away from taking the lead and control. But then Teague Travis happened.

Travis, a redshirt sophomore ranked 23rd, upset No. 5 Ed Scott 7-6 with a takedown late in the third period.

Every big win needs a major individual upset, and Travis provided that for OSU to swing the dual in the Cowboys’ favor at the halfway point. And the Pokes never trailed again, winning the next three matches.

3. The Haymaker

If 157 was the swing match, then 174 was the Cowboys’ haymaker.

The broadcast crew said that before the dual NC State coach Pat Popolizio told them the 174-pound matchup between a pair of evenly matched wrestlers could decide the whole thing.

Ranked 28th, freshman Brayden Thompson used riding time in overtime to slip past No. 31 Alex Faison 3-2 to give OSU a 16-7 lead with three matches left.

Upsets like Travis had at 157 are important to secure big dual victories, but wins in a toss-up match like Thompson notched are just as crucial to swing things in a team’s favor.

4. Plott Just Fine at 184

Daton Fix and Dustin Plott were the only mainstays in the Cowboys’ lineup at the start of the season, but even Plott wasn’t so certain after moving up a weight to 184. But start considering Plott a sure thing, even as a 184-pounder.

Plott has jumped to No. 3 at the weight, but Friday night was his first top-5 challenge since moving up. Like his team, though, Plott secured a top-5 win, beating No. 5 Dylan Fishback 13-8. Plott’s win gave OSU a 12-point lead with two matches left, meaning NC State would have to finish the dual with two straight falls to have any chance.

Smith said before the season he wanted to see Plott score more as a lighter guy at new weight, and putting up 13 in a high-scoring match shows he’s on his way to being what Smith wants him to be. Plott not only maintaining All-American status at a new weight, but positioning himself to go even higher on the podium after back-to-back sixth-place finishes, will be a huge part in the change OSU needed to 180 from last season.

5. Best OSU Team Since…?

A win over a top-5 team on the road seems like the perfect time to get ahead of ourselves.

In OSU dynasty time and standards, it’s been forever since the Pokes have had success at the NCAA tournament. Last season was literally the worst ever and a 14th-place finish in 2022 was definitely far from expectations, as well. From what we’ve seen so far, it’d be safe to put money on this OSU team outdoing the last two.

The Cowboys finished in third place in 2021 when they had six All-Americans and AJ Ferrari became the last Cowboy to win an individual national title. This is when we could jump the gun a little bit.

Fix, Plott and Izzak Olejnik are all legit title contenders as of now. If at least one of them finish the job, that matches 2021’s champion total and should also be halfway to the All-American count. Spratley, Thompson and Tagen Jamison are awfully dangerous and improving at a rapid pace, but I’m not sure they’re All-American level… yet. After Friday night, I think Teague Travis is there after less than a month in the starting lineup. Luke Surber at 197 should finish the season as an All-American. Konner Doucet is also right on the fence.

By March, most of OSU’s lineup could be capable of getting on the podium, so that count of six in 2021 could be matched, if not surpassed. If the Cowboys were to outdo that 2021 group, you’re looking at the Pokes’ best showing in the NCAA tournament since 2017, when they also finished third with another individual champion and eight All-Americans. Two champions and six All-Americans the year before bumped OSU to second place.

This Cowboy lineup includes four freshmen right now, though, so not even Smith himself can predict how it looks in two months.

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