Rutgers hosts Nittany Lions in budding rivalry match
The addition of Rutgers to the Big Ten Conference provided numerous benefits to the State University of New Jersey.
The allure of a power-five conference to potential recruits, additional exposure on national television with the conference owning a national sports network (Big Ten Network) and the opportunity to play elite competition across all sports were some of the biggest positives of the induction into the conference.
The biggest plus to joining the conference, at least for the fans of the Scarlet Knights, is it allows Rutgers to regularly play its neighbors from the West.
The newest rivalry on the Banks renews this Saturday when Penn State (4-3-2, 1-1-1) crosses the Delaware River and travels to Piscataway to face the Rutgers men’s soccer team (4-3-1, 1-2-0) in a conference showdown. The Knights look to avenge the 1-0 loss they suffered at Jeffrey Field in State College to the Nittany Lions last fall.
Holding its hosts scoreless for 79 minutes, the Rutgers defense finally cracked in the 80th minute after Connor Maloney struck a shot past goalkeeper David Greczek for the only goal of the contest a year ago. The goaltender had his hands full that night, making seven saves in total after his team was outshot, 22-5.
Coming off a resounding 8-0 win that pushed their goals per game average to 2.50 per game — good enough for a tie for fifth in the nation — over a struggling Loyola (Md.) team, the Knights have all the momentum they could hope for heading into Saturday night’s match.
“I think the guys have all the reason to feel good about themselves,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “Quite honestly, an eight-nothing scoreline — I don’t know what could be better than that going into a game like Saturday.”
The main protagonist in the best game of Rutgers’ young season, forward JP Correa implores his team to commence their reception of Penn State like they did against the Greyhounds to control the game rather than chase it.
“We have to come out like we did (against Loyola), so we don’t have what happened last weekend against Michigan State happen again,” the fifth-year senior said. “(We) can’t be chasing the game the whole time. We have to start off like we did (against Loyola) and be comfortable all game.”
Correa opened the scoring for the Knights and assisted on the next three goals. The second assist he provided was to Jason Wright for the sophomore’s first of two goals on the night.
The Jamaican U-23 international member had a frustrating first half in which he saw six of his shots get blocked or go wide, but he did not let it get in his head.
Wright scored a second-half brace to make up for the opening half and could’ve had more had Donigan not pulled him early to give him some rest and give some other players an opportunity on the pitch.
Leading the team in points (12) and tied for most goals for Rutgers this season (5) with fellow sophomore forward Miles Hackett, Wright is the main source of firepower in the final third for the Knights.
Despite the lackluster opening period, his teammates continued to trust him and feed him the ball and Wright did not disappoint.
“(Wright) kept going,” Donigan said. “He could've had three goals in the first half alone, but unfortunately, they made a nice save or he was just off the mark, but you just keep going to him because you know the more often you give him the ball, he’s gonna score for us and that’s exactly what happened for us when he finished off that game."
Had Donigan left him in the game longer, Wright could have thrown more numbers on the board.
"We could’ve let him stay in, he could’ve had four or five," Donigan said. "But, again, we just gotta keep going to who we know is going to put the points on the board for us.”
While the fans migrating to Yurcak Field to watch the latest installment in the new rivalry between the Knights and Nittany Lions look forward to a heated matchup, the players in red see the match as just another conference match against a difficult opponent.
“It’s just another Big Ten conference game for us,” Correa said. “We gotta go out there and we gotta win. Doesn’t really matter who the opponent is. For us, it’s just another game.”
Much like how he puts away the passes he receives from Correa, Wright hammered home his teammate's message and reiterated the expectations for the latest Big Ten game.
“It’s a conference game and it’s the Big Ten, so definitely, we’re going in looking for a win and to set us good in the (conference) table,” Wright said. “We’re looking forward for a good game and we’re ready. We’re ready to take it to Penn State.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.