Rutgers makes history with victory over No. 18 Ohio State
PISCATAWAY — On the biggest stage of his career, Jason Wright stepped up and delivered.
In front of a national television audience on the Big Ten Network, the sophomore forward scored his Big Ten-leading 13th goal of the season to push the Rutgers men’s soccer team to a 1-0 win over No. 18 Ohio State and isolate his team atop the Big Ten standings for the first time in program history.
After finishing a strong sequence of passing between junior midfielder Erik Sa, sophomore forward Miles Hackett and himself to ensure his team’s sixth straight win, Wright ran toward the corner flag in euphoria before being ambushed by his teammates as they commemorated what might end up being the most important goal of the season.
With the stakes high and all eyes in the conference on the match, Wright took it all in and embraced the moment.
“These games are what every player lives for,” Wright said. “As a striker, to get a goal in that stage, in that time, it’s really the best feeling ever. I just have to give thanks to my team. It was a really good team performance. We all did well and we deserve this victory.”
Acknowledging the quality of the opponent visiting Piscataway, head coach Dan Donigan recognized the difficulty of the match and highlighted his team’s defensive performance that helped snap the third-longest winning streak (8) in the country.
“It was a battle. That win comes from the heart and from a mindset to not lose,” Donigan said. “Ohio State’s a fantastic team, they pose a lot of different problems for us but I thought our guys, defensively, did a good job. We were able to keep them off the (scoreboard).”
For the first 70 minutes, it appeared the Knights (10-4-1, 4-3-0) were playing at the same level as the league-leading Buckeyes. But after Wright opened the scoring, Ohio State (9-5-2, 3-2-1) was struggling to keep up with Rutgers.
The Knights were the better side after getting their noses in front, taking advantage of the holes Ohio State left in defense as it fought for an equalizer.
Rutgers went the opposite route of where teams tend to go when taking a late lead.
“Par for the course for a team in a tightly-contested battle like that, goes up 1-0, the tendency is to sit back and take on a lot, but I didn’t think we necessarily did that,” Donigan said. “I thought we were okay. We were able to find an outlet, Jason (Wright) did a great job getting the outlets and holding balls and drawing fouls and relieving pressure for us. So I was pretty pleased with the way we responded after going up 1-0.”
The Knights piled on the pressure in the final 15 minutes, creating multiple chances to double their lead.
Senior midfielder Mitchell Taintor — who was among the seven players honored prior to kick-off during the Senior Day festivities — forced three-time defending Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Chris Froschauer into making two tight saves to keep the match at 1-0 in the final 10 minutes.
But despite appearing to be comfortable and in control to the 790 fans in the stands, Rutgers was anything but as the clock to be ticking in slow motion.
“Long time,” Taintor said of how long the final minutes felt. “I wish we scored in the last five minutes instead of 15 because the clock seemed to be non-stop.”
In a more balanced first half, the best chances still belonged to the Knights.
Freshman forward Brian Hawkins put fellow freshman midfielder Sheldon McKoy through on goal with a cutting-through ball, but the St. Catherine, Jamaica, native’s shot was easily saved by Froschauer.
Shortly after, Hackett convinced nearly everyone at Yurcak Field he opened the scoring when his shot in the 25th minute hit the side netting. Hackett, whose deflected shot assisted Wright in the only goal of the contest, constantly created problems for the Ohio State defense down both flanks with his speed.
On the other end of the pitch, junior goalkeeper David Greczek and his back-four continued their exceptional form, keeping their fourth clean sheet in five games. Greczek finished the night with five saves.
Preparing for games of this magnitude since pre-season opened in August, Rutgers was ready for the occasion.
Reminiscing on the exhaustion and sweat caused by countless suicide sprints, double-sessions and scrimmages done to get ready for this moment, Wright felt it was all worth it for times like Sunday.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that all the hard work that each individual has put in and the team collectively (is worth it).” he said. “Being awarded with being at the top of the table at this point in the season is important and we just have to keep working hard so we can maintain it and have a great season at the end of the day.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.