Rutgers shocks No. 9 PSU for second straight year with Senior Day shutout
PISCATAWAY — One year after the Rutgers women's soccer team announced its entrance to the Big Ten with an upset of then-No. 7 Penn State in Happy Valley, lightning struck twice in resounding fashion on Sunday at Yurcak Field.
In the team's blue-collar style, Rutgers clawed and fought to control the tempo for all 90 minutes, pulling off the upset of No. 9 Penn State for the second straight year in a 1-0 trademark shutout.
It was the fourth straight victory over Penn State. Last year, an early goal from Madison Tiernan and stout defense were the two main ingredients in the Scarlet Knights shocking Happy Valley.
This year, on Senior Day, the Knights did much of the same, this time with a goal coming early in the second half to make the difference.
Rutgers (12-2-2, 5-2-2) had the Nittany Lions on their heels early on, consistently driving the ball into Penn State territory and firing shots against goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.
But Penn State (11-3-2, 6-2-1) fought back and turned the pace of the game in their favor by utilizing the strength of their midfield corps and intercepting Rutgers passes.
Each team recorded five shots apiece in the scoreless first half, with the Knights having the closest scoring chance on a two-on-one fast break in the 25th minute.
Junior forward Madison Tiernan led the charge along with sophomore forward Colby Ciarrocca, but Eckerstrom saved Tiernan's shot on a diving stop.
Both sides took the first half as a chance to get a feel for the other before the second half exploded with aggressive play and speed.
In the 52nd minute, the duo of Tiernan and Ciarrocca connected again, this time converting all the way through and putting the Knights on the board with the first goal of the game.
Tiernan hit a long pass on the right side to Ciarrocca, who was waiting inside the box, and she finished it with her right foot to give the Knights the 1-0 advantage.
It was her team-leading fifth goal of the season, giving Rutgers the spark it was looking for. It proved to be the only bit of offense necessary against the stingy Penn State defense.
“It’s so important for us to try to be a program that competes for a championship every year — and Penn State is the bar,” said head coach Mike O’Neill. “We don’t worry about how many times we have beaten them, because the only thing that matters is that we won today. It’s a good measuring stick for the team because they put so much time and effort into what we do each day.”
Ciarrocca was glad to see her chemistry with Tiernan — who led the team with six shots — pay off and turn into a game-winning goal, especially after the pair nearly put the Knights on the board in the first half.
“It was a great ball in by Madison and I was glad to be able to finish it,” she said. “I saw I had enough room to turn and get a shot off, and fortunately it was for a score.”
Rutgers continued to push the Penn State defense back toward its own net. Another close chance in the 70th minute came about when junior defender Erin Smith broke free, but she had two consecutive shots blocked by Eckerstrom, who finished with five saves.
The Knights finished by outshooting the Nittany Lions by a mark of 13-9, including seven shots on goal compared to three for Penn State.
Sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy finished with three saves and recorded her 13th shutout of the season.
Rutgers has still yet to lose at home this season, holding an 8-0-1 mark at Yurcak Field.
The Knights also won this game in front of the largest crowd of the season, with 1,205 in attendance.
Senior defender and captain Erica Skroski logged all 90 minutes of the match and finished with one shot on goal.
As a part of the team that took down Penn State on the road last year, Skroski still remembers the postgame celebration that ensued before the bus ride back to the Banks.
But this time around, in front of family and friends in a packed house on Senior Day, the second time was even sweeter.
“We prepared all week and remembered the feeling of what it felt like to beat them at their place last year, but it’s just a whole different atmosphere playing on our home field in front of our fans,” Skroski said. “It’s an awesome feeling. We knew what they were going to bring and we brought it back, so it’s a really exciting win.”
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