Rutgers fends off late push from Delaware in 15-11 win
Had they played five minutes longer on Saturday night, the outcome of the matchup between the Rutgers men's lacrosse team and Delaware may have been different.
The Scarlet Knights cruised to commanding 12-4 lead over the Blue Hens entering the final quarter of play at High Point Solutions Stadium.
As the Knights have done all season against inferior opponents, they had grabbed an early lead — holding a 5-goal advantage after the first 15 minutes — and kept the opponent at arm's length for the next two quarters.
But Delaware wasn't prepared to lay down. Sparked by Paul Major, it finally broke out.
The Blue Hens scored 7 goals in the first 12-plus minutes of the final quarter — 4 of them coming from leading-goal scorer Major — while holding Rutgers to two scores to draw the score to 14-11.
Delaware had seized the momentum, but time proved to be its biggest nemesis.
With 2:39 on the clock and a 3-goal deficit, it was forced to apply high pressure to Rutgers when it had it in its offensive zone. This led to odd-man breaks the other way and the ultimate dagger delivered off the stick of sophomore attacker Jules Heningburg, who put the game on ice 19 seconds after the Blue Hens cut the deficit to three.
It got a lot closer than they would have preferred, but the Knights (7-2) were able to fend off the Blue Hens (3-7) last-quarter push for a 15-11 win.
“We got some dynamic players and I’ve always been a firm believer players make plays and we made some big-time plays all over the field, offensively, defensively, that rope unit," said head coach Brian Brecht.
Brecht pins the visitors dominant fourth-quarter on the poor decision making from his team in the final 15 minutes of action.
"I just thought decision-making probably was a big part of maybe letting them back in the fourth quarter," he said. "I thought we maybe lacked some proper decisions knowing the score and the clock and things like that. We’ll get better at that. The nice thing is that you have a great win tonight, seven and two, and we’ll learn from that without having to take a loss.”
Rutgers continued its strong play on both ends of the field from its prior 16-3 win over NJIT right into its game against Delaware.
Five different Knights scored in the opening period — with two tallies from redshirt freshman attacker Adam Charalambides — to take a 6-1 lead.
In the subsequent quarter, freshman attacker Josh Jordan scored the only 2 goals in the frame from either side in a two-minute frame. Delaware only managed four shots on goal in the first half as the home team entered the locker room with an 8-1 advantage.
The Blue Hens scored 3 of the first 4 goals of the second half to cut their deficit to 5, but Rutgers fired right back and closed the quarter out with goals from Charalambides, junior midfielder Jeff George and junior midfielder Christian Trasolini in the final seven-plus minutes.
The Knights had dominated the first 45 minutes of play, outshooting Delaware 36-16, winning the ground ball battle 26-19 and only committing 6 turnovers to the Blue Hens 14.
Rutgers still produced 11 shots in the final quarter, but 7 of Delaware's 11 shots on goal lit up the scoreboard to bring the score to 14-11 with 2:39 left.
But even though the Blue Hens made a legitimate run at stealing a win from the Knights, Rutgers locked down in the final few minutes to protect its seventh win of the season.
“We got a little away from ourselves," Trasolini said of the Knights' fourth-quarter play. "We kinda looked at the scoreboard and thought we had a nice, comfortable lead. We were moving well on offense, we were getting our looks. We might’ve taken a little step back, didn’t keep our foot on the pedal. But our defense honed in, our offense honed in and we kept the lead, had a strong lead and finished out the game.”
The Knights win over Delaware marked the finish of non-conference play as they, along with their 7-2 record, enter Big Ten competition.
In its inaugural season in the conference, Rutgers finished 1-4, but it was much more competitive than its record showed with three of its losses coming by 2 goals or less.
One of those close losses came in the Knights' first Big Ten game as a program against then-No. 19 Johns Hopkins, who they will host this Saturday night at High Point Solutions Stadium.
“Going into conference play with another win, especially I mean our mindset going into this game was this was a big game for us," said sophomore defender Michael Rexrode. "So we feel confident, but we definitely have a lot to work on this week before Hopkins. We’re definitely determined. I think we have a good mindset going into Hopkins and then conference play ... I think we’re up for it.”