No. 13 Rutgers rallies late to put away Fairfield 12-7
Heningburg has 21 points through 4 games
Senior goalkeeper Max Edelmann and the Rutgers men's lacrosse team's defense always seem to step up when the team needs them the most.
Going into the fourth quarter against Fairfield, the No. 13 Scarlet Knights were leading 8-5 and seemed to be in control.
That was hardly the case, as Joe Rodrigues and Frankie Labetti scored 2 goals in less than 2 minutes to make it a 1-goal contest. Rutgers needed a stop.
With 6:13 left, Stags star attacker Colin Burke took a shot from point-blank range. It was deflected away. Then Rodrigues, who had 3 goals on the day, fired a low shot. Edelmann came up with the save.
On the next possession, the Knights forced Burke into a bad pass turnover. Sophomore attacker Kieran Mullins scored to make it 9-7 and sparked a 4-0 run over the next 2.5 minutes that would put the game away.
Rutgers is a team powered by leadership and experience in its 14 seniors that head coach Brian Brecht is never shy to boast about. They backed it up against Fairfield, making plays in a close game to help the Knights win their third consecutive game at home.
"We have a veteran team, I love the maturity of our defensive guys and the ability to make plays," Brecht said. "Max had 11 saves, that was huge. The clearing success this game gave us opportunities to take good shots, which we did, and we made them when it counted. (sic)"
Joe Francisco, a senior faceoff specialist, was a big part of the clutch play down the stretch, going 11-of-18 from the 'X', good for 61.1 percent.
After missing the first two games of the season, Francisco was worked into the rotation last week against No. 9 Army, but took just seven faceoffs. With him returning to form — he went 57 percent from the 'X' as the primary guy in 2017 — Brecht is optimistic about the depth and options he has for faceoffs.
"Getting him back in the rotation with Alex Schoen certainly makes us a lot deeper and gives us more options as we go through the season," Brecht said.
In a game where Rutgers had nine turnovers — all unforced — and the Stags had 14, there were plenty of ground balls up for grabs. The Knights simply wanted it more, scooping up 32 to Fairfield's 22.
Junior longstick midfielders Kyle Pless and Garrett Michaeli were huge on the wings and in the middle of the field, combining for nine ground balls, while Pless also picked up an assist in transition.
"They're very talented players. They (have) a high motor, and they're great on ground balls and in the middle of the field," Brecht said. "That's why we do some of the things offensively with them and they are able to make plays on the wings on faceoffs to create opportunities for us in the middle of the field."
Senior attacker and captain Jules Heningburg continued his hot start to the season, scoring 4 goals and dishing out two assists to give him 21 points through four games on the season.
He carried the load up top, but saw his counterparts in Mullins and freshman Tommy Coyne score the two most important goals in the game — the ones that put Rutgers up 9-7 and 10-7 late in the game.
Coyne missed his first four shots of the game, firing high, likely due to the wet conditions causing the ball to slip out a little early.
But Heningburg noticed the first-year player make an adjustment to his shot that paid off when he scored with 3:17 left to give his team a 3-goal lead.
"That kid's as composed as anyone I've ever met," Heningburg said of Coyne. "I think he knew that the ball was slipping out a little bit going high so he put that last one low and he buried it."
And for the defense that has been the backbone of the team, senior captain Michael Rexrode was once again a key cog, forcing two turnovers and grabbing three ground balls.
But he deflected all the credit to Edelmann, who he said makes his job easier.
"Max is unbelievable. He's an unbelievable goalie," Rexrode said. "I think he's the best in the country ... It's always nice being able to play defense knowing he has our back."