Northwestern shocks Rutgers in overtime
This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.
Going into Sunday, the Rutgers women’s soccer team had everything going for right. After a triumphant 2-1 thrilling win on Friday night over Illinois (9-6, 4-5), the Scarlet Knights returned to action Sunday against a bottom feeder of the Big Ten.
It seemed as if the stage was set. As the five Rutgers seniors were honored with flowers and greeted by their families on Senior Day, they had an opportunity to make their last game at Yurcak Field a memorable one.
With an unblemished 8-0 mark at home, a win would have given the Knights their first undefeated season at home since 1987. All they had to do was take care of business against Northwestern, which only had one conference win on the season.
Instead, it was Northwestern (6-7-3, 2-6-2) that celebrated at the middle of the field after the game. The Wildcats stunned the Knights with a 1-0 win in overtime to ruin Senior Day and the bid for the third undefeated season at home in the program’s 30-year history.
For Rutgers (11-2-1, 7-2-1), the differences in play were obvious. Head coach Mike O’Neill has stressed discipline and instilled a mentality that has correlated to the success all season long, but the Knights received three yellow cards — all of which came in the final 15 minutes of regulation.
“In order to be successful, you have to have good habits and you have to have good discipline, and we didn’t have them today,” O’Neill said. “From the [yellow] cards, just doing the little things that we normally do well, we didn’t do today.”
In the 98th minute, Allie Steiner struck on a breakaway from 20 yards out past a pair of Rutgers defenders, and freshman goalkeeper Casey Murphy and into an empty net to give the Northwestern the walk-off victory.
As Steiner sprinted closer, Murphy decided to come up and attempt to make a stop, but the decision backfired.
“The ball was played in over the top and at that moment I felt like I had to come up for the ball,” Murphy said. “She beat me to it and got a touch past me and it rolled into the back of the net.”
O’Neill described the play as he saw it unfold from the sideline.
“It was just a long ball,” O’Neill said. “… We lost track of [Steiner], [who] is their top goal scorer and then it was decision-making from there whether we stay on the line or we don’t stay on the line and [we] made the wrong decisions.”
Up until that moment, Murphy was a rock between the posts for the Knights. Throughout the entirety of the match, she made four saves in critical situations, but her mishap couldn’t have come at a worse time.
As things got physical down the stretch, it opened up more chances for Rutgers to strike on offense. Sophomore defender Erin Smith was leveled from behind by Northwestern forward Steiner in 86th minute, leading to a yellow card on the Wildcats and free kick opportunity for the Knights.
Pietrangelo sent in the kick and the ball bounced around like pinball between the white and black shirts that filled the box, but nothing came out of it.
With 42 seconds left on the clock, Pietrangelo set up for another free kick and ripped a shot that was batted up over the net by Northwestern goalkeeper Lauren Clem. As the clock winded down, Pietrangelo raced over to the right corner to set up for a corner kick. She sent the ball in and junior backer Erica Skroski attempted to head the ball in, but the shot trickled off wide left of the post.
But in the 94th minute, a golden opportunity presented itself for the Knights: A Wildcats foul inside the box set up a penalty kick for Skroski.
As Skroski lined up, the crowd rose to its feet and held its breath. Skroski trotted up and tried to deceive Clem by sneaking it by her on the ground in the far right corner of the net, but her shot bounced off the crossbar.
The game that appeared meant for Rutgers to win just couldn’t seem to happen.
“It’s definitely very disappointing,” Pietrangelo said. “There was a lot of things on the line today. We didn’t perform how we usually do, and I think it’s just a bump in the road and tomorrow we go back to work and focus on the next game against Wisconsin.”
Murphy, who was evidently distraught after giving up the first game-winning goal of her career, still mentioned that she and the Knights will work together to rebound and finish the season strong.
“I think this keeps us honest,” Murphy said of the loss. “We’ll practice this week and work really hard to get ready for next week, but … we can’t let it affect us going forward and we’re only going to learn from our mistakes here today.”
O’Neill ensured that the team will.
“Character is built through adversity,” O’Neill said. “We know we weren’t sharp today. I’m very, very confident in how they’ll respond, so high expectations is Tuesday’s practice is going to be a good one.”