Rutgers tames Nittany Lions in thrilling 15-14 contest to clinch spot in Big Ten Tournament
Senior Scott Bieda found fellow attacker redshirt freshman Adam Charalambides at point blank range on the right side of the goal.
With two defenders converging on him, Charalambides just barely got off a shot aimed at the top left of the net as he was falling to the ground, but Penn State goalie Will Schreiner stood tall and made the stop.
As Schreiner corralled the ball and tossed it to teammate Tripp Traynor, sophomore attacker Jules Heningburg came out of nowhere from behind the net to deflect the pass into the air, catch the ball in his stick, square his body and blast a clean shot from 8 feet out past Schreiner all in one motion.
It was Heningburg's career-high 6th goal of the game and gave the Rutgers men's lacrosse team its first lead of the night over the Nittany Lions after fighting an uphill battle for 52-plus minutes of action.
Heningburg's relentless sequence was the epitome of the Scarlet Knights' play Friday night as they simply would not be denied.
The No. 19 Knights (10-3, 3-1) fought back from deficits of five and four in each respective half to take down No. 17 Penn State (7-6, 1-3) by a score of 15-14 in front of 2,328 on Senior Night at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Jules Heningburg led the way with 6 goals and 2 assists, while Scott Bieda scored and dished out 3 goals of his own.
With the win, Rutgers captured the Friendship Cup from the Nittany Lions for the first time since 2010, reached double digit wins for the fifth time in program history and, most importantly, clinched its first ever trip to the Big Ten Tournament.
After the home finale, the Knights' 10 seniors were honored upon capping off a perfect 7-0 season at High Point Solutions Stadium in 2016.
"It's just absolutely unreal," Bieda said on finishing his home career with a comeback, signature win. "(Senior long-stick midfielder Zack) Sikora made an unreal speech when we were at the diner, just saying how we've worked so hard in this stadium and on this field and there's no way that we're gonna walk out of here for the last time not on the winning scoreboard ... I think a lot of people were like, 'you guys were down so much, weren't you nervous?' No. I knew we were gonna score, I knew we were gonna come back."
The first 15 minutes of lacrosse Rutgers played Saturday night looked like a continuation from its late loss to Maryland last weekend.
Penn State blitzed the Knights early and often, finding the back of the net on 6 of its 8 shots on goal in the first quarter. Charalambides tallied the only goal for Rutgers in the opening frame, as it faced a 6-1 disadvantage through 15 minutes.
But the Knights flipped the script completely in the second, this time outscoring the Nittany Lions 6-1 with 4 goals from Heningburg, one from Charalambides and one off the stick of junior midfielder Christian Trasolini.
As the teams came out of the locker room locked at 7, Penn State didn't waste any time in reclaiming its lead.
The Nittany Lions scored the first 3 goals of the second half in just over three minutes of play. Bieda and Heningburg sandwiched a fourth score from the opposition before the Nittany Lions netted 2 more goals to stretch out to a 13-9 lead with 4:01 remaining in the third quarter.
To that point in the game, senior goalie Kris Alleyne, who entered with a save percentage of more than 55 percent, had allowed 13 of the 17 shots he faced to get by him and Rutgers had given up more than 11 goals in a game for just the second time this season.
The Knights' offense had shown it could keep up with Penn State's No. 15 scoring attack — they just needed their defense to bunker down.
In the final 19 minutes of lacrosse, Rutgers' defense and Alleyne did just that.
Midfielders Jeff George and Christian Mazzone notched goals in the waning minutes of the third to bring the score to 13-11 entering the fourth. George scored again and Bieda tallied his third goal of the game in the first four minutes of the final quarter to tie the score for the second time of the game at 13-13.
Then, with 7:12 on the clock, Heningburg made what wound up being the No. 10 play on SportsCenter's top-10 play countdown Friday night to give the Knights their first lead of the game.
"I just saw (the goalie) kinda the whole game, he was just holding it a little bit too long," Heningburg said of the play. "I happened to be behind the goal that one time and I've gotten those a lot at practice and I had one earlier in the season. So I just knew, I just go around wrap it and I just grabbed it."
Under a minute later, Heningburg notched his career-high eighth point by assisting on Scott Bieda's third goal of the night, extending Rutgers' lead to 15-13.
Following a goal at the 3:31 mark to cut the Knights' lead to one, Penn State called timeout as it had possession of the ball in its offensive zone with 57 seconds on the clock.
Out of the timeout, the Nittany Lions methodically worked the ball around the zone before Mike Sutton finally fired a shot from the left of the attack area that was blocked and scooped up by the Knights. Rutgers cleared the ball and got it into the stick of Adam Charalambides, who circled the attack area one time before time expired.
After allowing Penn State to score 13 times through 41 minutes, the Knights held the Nittany Lions to just one goal the rest of the way, and Kris Alleyne made more saves in the fourth quarter (4) than he had in the first three quarters combined as Rutgers scored 6 of the final 7 goals.
"Kris Alleyne's an unbelievable goalie, but that fourth quarter, he made some unbelievable saves," Bieda said. "Maybe it wasn't his best game overall, but that fourth quarter, he stood tall when we needed him, he made saves when we needed him to, and that's the real reason we won the game. And the defense struggled a little bit, but that's a really good offense right there. Penn State's one of the best offenses in the country, so to hold them in that fourth quarter and on that last drive, that's an impressive stat in itself."
Rutgers will head to Columbus, Ohio, to close out Big Ten and regular season play next Saturday night against the Buckeyes. With a win, the Knights would be guaranteed a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, and could slide into the top seed if No. 5 Maryland drops its final two games.
But before looking forward to the postseason, the Knights looked back on the historic Friday night that added another layer into an impressive four years from the current senior class.
"For these seniors, they're never gonna forget this night," said head coach Brian Brecht. "A 10-win season, 1 of 5 Rutgers teams to have double-digit wins in a season, first time for Rutgers going to the Big Ten Tournament. Those seniors have put their stamp on something and they've created a great culture here. Certainly proud of every single one of them and everything they've given to the program over the past four years."