The last 10 seconds of Tyler Wilps’ wrestling career might have been his most memorable — and his most heartbreaking.
The redshirt senior, who had wrestled his way to the 174-pound national championship bout on Saturday night against Penn State’s No. 2 Matt Brown, finished as runner-up in a controversial late decision, headlining a weekend of Pitt wrestling in the NCAA Championships in St. Louis.
Wilps scored a go-ahead takedown on Brown with 22 seconds remaining in the match to take a 4-3 lead. But the referees, who had already given Wilps a stalling warning earlier in the match, awarded Brown a point after determining Wilps stalled again.
With only three seconds remaining before the match would move to sudden victory, Wilps held Brown until time expired.
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson officially challenged the finish, claiming that Wilps locked his hands — an illegal move, given the positions of the wrestlers.
After a lengthy review, Sanderson won the challenge, and Pitt head coach Jason Peters lost his subsequent challenge that time had expired before the locked hands. Suddenly, Brown had won the 174-pound national championship.
“It is what it is. It’s been interpreted differently all year, and we fell subject to it,” Peters said after the match according to a release. “I’m disappointed for Tyler.”
Wilps still earned All-American status because he reached the semifinals, his second straight All-American honor. He is Pitt’s first back-to-back All-American since his older brother, Matt, accomplished the same feat in 2012-13, and the 18th repeat All-American in program history.
Wilps finished his Pitt career with a 87-31 record and a 19-4 mark in his final season. Two of those losses came to Brown. The last loss came in another close 6-5 decision at the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 2.
Just the day before, Wilps completed one of the bigger surprise upsets of the tournament, defeating top-seeded Robert Kokesh of Nebraska, 3-2, in the quarterfinals. After subduing Oklahoma State’s No. 12 seed Kyle Crutchmer with a sudden victory takedown, Wilps became Pitt’s first NCAA finalist since Keith Gavin in 2008.
“We’re thankful for what [Wilps] has done for Pitt wrestling and I really hoped he could have finished with a national championship,” Peters said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”
Wilps wasn’t the only Pitt wrestler vying for a national championship.
Redshirt senior Max Thomusseit, who entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed in the 184-pound weight class, lost in the quarterfinals to Lehigh’s No. 7 Nathaniel Brown and then to North Dakota State’s No. 6 Hayden Zillmer to miss out on All-American status.
The losses dropped Thomusseit’s season record to 26-3 and his career record to 93-29.
The Panthers sent four more wrestlers to St. Louis for the championships as well.
Freshman Dom Forys lost in the 125-pound match to No. 3 Joey Dance from Virginia Tech, and sophomore Mikey Racciato finished 1-2, dropping his final bout to No. 15 Bryant Clagon from Rider at 149.
In the 165-pound class, redshirt senior Troy Reaghard also finished 1-2, losing in the first round before Mike England from Missouri eliminated him, 12-4. Redshirt freshman Ryan Solomon finished 2-2 as a heavyweight, and he lost his third consolation round bout to Missouri’s No. 11 Devin Mellon.
Pitt’s wrestling season is now officially over, and the team has seen the last collegiate competitions from standouts Thomusseit and Wilps.
“Tyler has a bright future, and what he’s done for Pitt wrestling has been great,” Peters said after Wilps’ loss. “I’m thankful for him.”