Rutgers topples No. 12 Ohio State at home behind late goal
The Rutgers women’s soccer team knew the importance of this weekend. It knew who it was facing and it knew where it stood in the Big Ten standings — and it was up for the challenge.
After tying conference rival No. 13 Penn State (9-3-2, 5-1-2) 0-0 in double overtime on Thursday night, the Scarlet Knights (10-2-4, 4-2-3) came back out against No. 12 Ohio State (12-3-1, 7-2-0) on Sunday and held on for a 1-0 win.
“We worked really hard and I think the challenge was to play a tough game on Thursday and then get up for another hard game on Sunday and I think that they did that,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “I was proud that they didn’t give anything up and as the game went on they got stronger and then the goal at the end was a big time goal by Brittany.”
With seven minutes left in the second half and Rutgers on the verge of going to its third straight overtime game, sophomore forward Brittany LaPlant — who entered the game just three minutes earlier — broke a tackle in the box, set her feet and tucked her shot into the bottom right corner of the net.
LaPlant, who has seen action in all 16 games of the season off the bench, was on the field for just 14 minutes but made every minute count on Sunday.
“It’s a little more challenging because when you’re a starter you kind of get to have some time to get into the flow of the game,” LaPlant said. “So coming off the bench, it’s a little bit of a different mentality to come in right away and have an impact.”
The game was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Knights couldn’t even muster a shot attempt as the Buckeyes outshot them 5-0. Junior goalkeeper Casey Murphy responded with two saves.
In the second half, both Ohio State and Rutgers each had four shots and just like LaPlant’s minutes played, the Knights made every shot count.
“We definitely had to fight to get the win today,” LaPlant said. “Ohio State, they came out they played hard. The first half didn’t really go the way that we wanted to but we came out and we fought hard in the second half and we were able to put one away and get the win.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Rutgers posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since a 2-0 win against Maryland on Sept. 17 and a 0-0 draw at Northwestern on Sept. 22.
After a bit of a rough patch in the middle of the season, the defense is getting hot again at the right time.
“Our mentality is to not let up any shots and services,” said senior defender Courtney Norton. “And from Penn State to today we did a really good job of that so we got to keep that going for the rest of the season and take it into postseason.”
Sunday’s win also, at the very least, guaranteed the Knights with a top-eight ranking in the Big Ten standings. Now at 15 points, Rutgers sits in fourth in the conference behind only Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State. The four points captured over the weekend against two top-15 teams also likely pushed the Knights back into the Division I top-25 rankings.
Seniors Norton, Murphy, forward Colby Ciarrocca, midfielder Christy Monroy and goalkeeper Brianna Scarola were all honored before the game as Rutgers celebrated its Senior Day. The big win only made the day even more special.
“Yeah it means a lot,” Norton said. “The past three years I’ve been not a senior so actually being the senior is weird. We don’t like to lose at home at all or tie at home, so to get the win on Yurcak on Senior Day is really important to us.”
The win was not only important for the seniors, but for O’Neill as well, who has seen these players grow and mature right before his very eyes.
“When I look at the five players that are leaving us, this program is built around their character, their talent, their leadership,” O’Neill said. “They’ve been here three or four years and have been involved in a lot of big games, just like today, so I think it’s a tribute to them.”
The Knights still have some work to do, though.
On Saturday, Rutgers will travel to Bloomington, Indiana to face the Hoosiers (6-7-4, 2-4-3) before coming back home to finish the regular season against Michigan (5-4-6, 2-3-3). And as we’ve seen all season, anything can happen in the Big Ten.
“I just think the Big Ten is one of the top conferences in the country,” O’Neill said. “There are no easy games, every game is a battle but we like that because that forces us to be at our best every single day.”
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