The streak is over.
It took a world champion to end it, but N.C. State senior Nick Gwiazdowski finally lost.
Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder beat Gwiazdowski 7-5 in overtime in the 285-pound NCAA championship match on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Gwiazdowski had won 88 straight matches and two straight NCAA titles but couldn’t quite close out Snyder, who became the youngest American to win a world title at the Senior World Championships last September.
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Gwiazdowski led 5-3 with 22 seconds left in the third period when Snyder tied it up with a two-point takedown.
Snyder got another takedown 25 seconds into extra time to pick up the winning two points.
Gwiazdowski questioned his end-match strategy in regulation and the inability to protect the lead.
“I probably should have just ran and take two stall calls,” Gwiazdowski said. “But again, I don’t know where my head was. Maybe I thought it was closer but I don’t know.”
Gwiazdowski probably had time to stall and it only would have cost him a point and he would have won 5-4. But that wasn’t what he had in mind for the most anticipated match of the night in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd.
“I hope the fans got what they wanted. I tried to give them the best match I could and I left them everything that I had out there.”
After a scoreless first period, Gwiazdowski took a 3-0 lead after an escape to start the second period and then a takedown.
Snyder scored a point on an escape before the end of the second period to cut Gwiazdowski’s lead to 3-2.
Gwiazdowski went 5-2 after a takedown early in the third period. An escape by Snyder made it 5-3 before the final costly sequence.
Snyder’s comeback ended with Gwiazdowski’s first loss since Jan. 2, 2014. Snyder, who trained with Gwiazdowski last summer, had only words of respect for the two-time NCAA champion.
“Nick's a great wrestler, great competitor,” Snyder said. “I think it will go down as one of the most exciting heavyweight matches in NCAA history.”
Gwiazdowski knew before the tournament that Snyder was a wild card. A runner-up in the 197-pound weight class last year as a freshman, Snyder’s star took off in September when he became the youngest American, at 19, to win a world title in the Senior World Championships.
Snyder, who wrestles at 213 pounds in international competition, had planned on taking the college season off to prepare for the Olympics.
Caught between weight classes at the collegiate level, 197 and 285 pounds, Snyder decided to move up to heavyweight in January and compete for the NCAA title. He had wrestled only six times at 285 before the NCAA championships.
N.C. State coach Pat Popolizio said there was no shame in losing to a world champion.
“He wrestled the best guy in the world,” Popolizio said. “I think it was just great wrestling on both sides. If you look at the final match, it was by far the most exciting match and by far the highest level wrestling out there. Hopefully, they’re on the world team together.”
With 49 points, N.C. State finished 11th in the team standings, its best finish since 1993 (seventh) but not quite as high as it hoped when the tournament started.
The Wolfpack went 23-1 during the regular season, and was ranked No. 2 in the country, but got off to a slow start in the preliminary rounds and Gwiazdowski and Pete Renda were the only two wrestlers to reach the semifinal round.
Renda, a junior, finished third at 184 pounds, winning two consolation matches on Saturday, and senior Tommy Gantt took eighth at 157 pounds.
It was the first time since 1992 N.C. State had three All-Americans.
Penn State, with 123 points, won its fifth team national title in six years. Virginia Tech, which didn’t have a wrestler reach the championship round, was the top ACC finisher in fourth place with 82 points.
The ending, both Gwiazdowski’s loss and the team finish, wasn’t what Popolizio had wanted but he tried to keep the season in perspective.
N.C. State finished 63rd in the NCAAs in Popolizio’s first season in 2013. The Wolfpack finished 16 in the NCAAs last year and 19th in 2014.
“I think we have to take a step back and realize that,” Popolizio said. “We had high expectations coming in here but one thing we, as a staff and a team, need to do is recognize the progress.
“I don’t want this tournament to define what our season was about.”
After the match, Gwiazdowski was understandably disappointed. He said he will lose sleep over the final seconds of the third period. He also said he will try to remember the entirety of his career and not the ending.
“I can’t dwell on this one match,” Gwiazdowski said. “I won 88 straight matches, that’s a lot of good times. For some reason in this sport, you always remember the bad times.
“I’ll try to remember the two (national titles) I won and what I did as a heavyweight, in terms of dominance and rewriting what heavyweights do.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio