Kieran Mullins pushes Rutgers over No. 4 Ohio State in overtime
Some might say that what the Rutgers men's lacrosse team did on Saturday was the anti-Rutgers.
The No. 13 Scarlet Knights lost a 2-goal fourth quarter lead to No. 4 Ohio State and went into overtime with no momentum.
In a triple-overtime loss to Maryland two weeks ago, Rutgers missed countless game-winning opportunities and had numerous sloppy turnovers that cost the team the game.
And with the long history of disappointment surrounding Rutgers athletics, it seemed that the Knights would "Rutgers" the chance at an upset and lose to the Buckeyes and miss out on the postseason.
But freshman Kieran Mullins had other ideas, as he scored the game winning goal with 2:19 left in the first overtime period to give No. 13 Rutgers (10-4, 2-3) arguably its biggest win in program history and sending the seniors off in dramatic fashion with and 12-11 triumph over the Buckeyes (12-3, 3-2).
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With the victory, the Knights have positioned themselves very well for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, likely moving themselves into the top-10 of the RPI, a resume aspect that the committee will have a hard time turning down.
And no one is more confident in Rutgers' chances of an at-large bid than head coach Brian Brecht. Who spoke at length of how his team is deserving of a spot in that 17-team field.
"There's no one's resume that is better than ours right now for an at-large bid. Our numbers, our win loss record, strength of schedule," he said. "We have a body of work from the start of the season through April, we have two great Big Ten wins in the month of April. You wanna watch and see how good we are, you can turn on the TV. You wanna look at the numbers, the numbers are right there."
And anyone who watches lacrosse understands how crucial faceoffs are. The Buckeyes boast Jake Withers, one of the best in the country. On the other side of the "X" is Joe Francisco for Rutgers. He had a lackluster effort last week against Penn State, but was able to hang tough with Withers through nearly three quarters, keeping the Ohio State stud 5 percent under his season average.
But late in the third quarter, Withers came out and was replaced by Christian Feliziani. Francisco took advantage of that and took the game over. The Clark, New Jersey native won 4-of-5 in the fourth quarter and won the all-important overtime faceoff, which led to the game-winning goal.
"It started with JoJo Francisco," sophomore midfielder Casey Rose said of the team's focus. "He had a rough game last week but he's been huge for us. We believe in him and showed up to play today against a very, very good faceoff guy, He was locked in and it echoed through the team."
And when the beneficiary of Francisco's overtime faceoff win was asked about his performance, Kieran Mullins had one word to describe it.
"Unbelievable," he said.
In fitting Senior Day performances, Rutgers got big games from midfielder Jeff George (3 goals), attacker Connor Murphy (2 goals, 2 assists) and defender Chris Groel (2 ground balls, 1 caused turnover).
And while those three have been notable starters this year, Brecht did touch on two less-known seniors who had important days.
"Charlie Nicklaus, senior, huge stop in the ride to get us a possession in the fourth quarter. Obviously Chris Peters in the man-down unit," Brecht said. "You look and you see what our seniors were able to do. Certainly proud of thma nd certainly excited for what they've been able to do for the program."
Late in the game, with the Knights clinging to an 11-9 lead, Ohio State star-freshman Trey LeClaire took the game into his own hands. With the Buckeyes not having scored in over 12 minutes going back to the third quarter, the long-range tactician score his 31st and 32nd goals of the season, the second being with 3 minutes left, to tie the game up at 11.
And although many fans thought that Jeff George had won the game at the buzzer for Rutgers on its final possession, it was a shot that hit the side netting and sent the game to overtime.
With the season on the line, Brecht had one more opportunity to put his players in a position to win.
After the game, Mullins revealed what Brecht said to the team before the highest-ranked win in program history.
"He said 'You're in control, keep playing hard. We're gonna win this thing.' He actually said that and we believed it and we knew it was gonna happen."