Rutgers suffers defeat to Penn State after three-hour power outage
When the halftime whistle blew Saturday night at Yurcak Field, the Rutgers men’s soccer team headed into the locker room to discuss a plan to overcome the 1-0 deficit it faced against Big Ten Conference rival Penn State.
The Scarlet Knights (4-4-1, 1-3-0) had to wait longer than expected to execute their game plan.
A power outage lasting one hour and 48 minutes on Busch campus, where Yurcak Field is located, caused the halftime intermission in the match between the Knights and the Nittany Lions (5-2-3, 2-1-1) to last an unprecedented two hours and 40 minutes.
“That’s never happened to me before,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy things, but that’s a first for me with this delay and the power outage and everything.”
While Rutgers continued to control possession and dictate the match in the second half — which started over three and a half hours after the initial kickoff — a counter-attack goal from Penn State following a Knights corner with under two minutes remaining sealed a 2-0 win for the visitors.
In Donigan’s eyes, the result was not reflective of what happened on the pitch Saturday night.
“The guys deserve so much more than that scoreline,” the sixth-year head coach said. “Obviously, the second goal was against the run of play. Typical of a game where you’re pressing and chasing to get that tying goal, which we certainly did more than enough to get it, but it wasn’t our night for whatever reason. The delay, everything was just kind of … it makes it difficult to swallow.”
Rutgers had all the momentum entering the break.
Controlling possession and creating numerous chances after Brian James opened the scoring for the Nittany Lions in the 10th minute as a result of an errant pass from senior center-back and captain Mitch Lurie, the home side felt it had all the resources to tie the all-time series with Penn State, which was at 9-8 in favor of the visitors entering the match.
But all of the momentum was killed with the unexpected technical difficulties.
“You always love having momentum,” Lurie said. “We had momentum going into the half but stuff happens and we were told it’s uncontrollable. You can’t control the fact that the lights weren’t on, it’s the way it goes.”
While the extended halftime had an effect on the Knights, they will not use it as an excuse as the team on the other end of the field was also affected.
“We were ready to go,” Lurie said. “(Penn State) had to do the same thing we had to do. Guys were pumped to play and it just didn’t go our way.”
After his uncharacteristic mistake allowed the Nittany Lions to open the scoring, Lurie nearly made up for his mishap minutes later.
The fifth-year senior lofted a perfectly weighted ball over the top of the Penn State defense to Miles Hackett. The sophomore forward ran the ball into the Nittany Lions' penalty area and fired a shot from just outside the 6-meter area, but it skied over Matt Bersano’s goal.
It was the second miss from Hackett in a clear goal-scoring opportunity. After the miss, Donigan placed freshman forward Brian Hawkins in his place with hopes that the first-year could be more clinical in front of goal.
In his first and most clear chance, Hawkins was unable to put away a rebound after Bersano spilled a JP Correa shot, striking the ball well wide of goal.
“It’s very frustrating,” Donigan said. “We’re all human and we work so hard to get those chances and, for whatever reason, there’s always a great sliding tackle or the ball hits the post or the goalkeeper makes a great save or the ball gets nicked wide or whatever the reasons are, it’s very frustrating.”
The best chance of the bunch for Rutgers came with five minutes remaining in the contest, and it belonged to junior midfielder Erik Sa, who shook Bersano's goal when his shot struck the far post.
“I got the ball on the right side of the field,” Sa said. “I played Jason in and he had a great touch to (Niel Guzman) and Guzie got a bit unlucky, I think, with his shot and it bounced back to me. I took a touch and I saw an opening and hit it as perfectly as I possibly could, but just a little too much to the left.”
The frustration felt by Rutgers culminated in that moment, almost a sign that the ball was not destined to go in. It was one of those nights that, even if they had spent all night on the field — which they almost did — the Knights might not have been able to find an equalizer.
“My initial feeling was that hopefully there was a rebound there but once play settled down, I was just like, ‘Come on, how’s that going to happen to us right now?’ We’re dominating play and we have a great chance that just doesn’t go our way, but again, it’s just soccer,” Sa said.
Shortly after Sa’s attempt, Riley Grant scored the goal that clinched the win for Penn State.
While the results may not be positive, the Knights remain confident in their abilities. Playing an attractive brand of soccer, there are no doubts among the boys on the Banks that it will pay dividends soon enough.
“These guys are very head strong right now. They know they’re good,” Donigan said. “They’re playing with great confidence ... I think our day is very close to coming here. We got Yale coming in here on Tuesday and then we hit the road for a couple of conference games so I’m very confident in my team that we can win the remaining games, there’s no question about it. They just deserve better.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.