First-half injury dooms Rutgers
Down 8-9 at halftime Saturday, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team was giving No. 7 Virginia all it could handle in Charlottesville, Va.
But a head injury to junior faceoff specialist Joe Nardella late in the first half proved to drastically change the outcome.
The Scarlet Knights (2-1) struggled to gain possession without Nardella’s presence in face-offs. It showed as the Cavaliers (4-0) ran away with the game, winning, 19-12, and handing the Knights their first defeat of the season.
“Nardella was taken out with a cheap shot … and that was a big game changer,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “It’s disappointing that it happened and even more disappointing that there was no flag, no penalty on such a play. And I don’t want to say that was the whole thing, but there’s no doubt that the duel [is] the ground balls. The differences in possession in the second half would not even be close if we had our All-American faceoff guy out there.”
Nardella was 10-of-13 in face-offs in the first half and the Knights tied the Cavaliers with 17 ground balls.
Junior face-off specialist Brian Lenskold would take over Nardella’s responsibilities in the second half but was nowhere near as dominant, finishing 6-of-16 in face-offs.
The Knights ended the game winning just 48.5 percent of their face-offs — their lowest percentage this season.
Despite the disappointing loss, Brecht believes Rutgers performed admirably.
“They played hard, they prepared well, they traveled well ... but we didn’t get to play at full strength,” Brecht said. “I’m proud of their effort, how they handled themselves from start to finish and it shows we’re getting better.”
The Knights trailed, 9-14, entering the fourth quarter.
After trading early goals, the Knights scored three unanswered goals to pull within three with 10:42 remaining.
But the Cavaliers responded with a four-goal run of their own to seal the victory.
Rutgers was held to its lowest scoring total of the season in the third quarter.
Virginia outscored the Knights, 5-1, in the frame, with junior midfielder Rich Rambo scoring Rutgers’ lone goal.
Rutgers started the second quarter with two quick goals from Rambo and senior attacker Scott Klimchak, giving them a 6-3 lead — their largest lead of the game.
The Cavaliers fought back, tying the score at eight with 32 seconds to play before winning the ensuing face-off and scoring with one second left in the half to take the lead.
The Knights outscored Virginia, 4-3, in the first quarter with four different players scoring for Rutgers, but the Cavaliers once again scored a late goal with three seconds left.
“Those were disappointing. We never like to give up goals with under a minute to go in the quarter,” Brecht said.
Klimchak finished the game with four goals to lead the team and extend his goal-scoring streak to 20 straight contests.
Rambo and senior midfielder Nick DePaolera also contributed two goals to the Knights attack, but the goal total was the team’s lowest of the season.
Rutgers struggled to contain Virginia’s high powered attack — led by Preseason Second Team All-American attacker Mark Cockerton — who led the Cavaliers with seven points on four goals and three assists.
The Knights were outshot, 60-31, and turned the ball over 17 times compared to Virginia’s nine — mistakes that Brecht knew the team needed to fix.
“We’re going to play fast, we’re going to push the ball in transition and we’re going to spread the field,” Brecht said. “When you do that and you’re not perfect, there are going to be some miscues. I don’t think it hurt us, but it certainly didn’t help us.”
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