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Rutgers seeks first Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal win in program history

<p>Junior midfielder Erik Sa and his team are excited for the chance to host a Big Ten Tournament match at Yurcak Field.</p>

Junior midfielder Erik Sa and his team are excited for the chance to host a Big Ten Tournament match at Yurcak Field.

What goes up, must come down.

The Rutgers men’s soccer team faced Maryland on Wednesday riding high on a seven-game winning streak with a chance to win the first Big Ten regular season title in any sport in school history.

The Scarlet Knights' dreams — along with the third-longest active winning streak in Division I men’s soccer — came crashing down as they suffered a 3-1 defeat to the Terrapins that pulled them down two spots to a fourth-place finish in the conference standings.

The Knights refuse to make any excuses for the loss and recognized they were outplayed.

“We got beat by Maryland,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “I think the guys realize ... they did not come out and perform well. A number of things happened, I think, that didn’t allow us to possess the ball and be the dangerous team we could be in the attack. (Wednesday night) was just a tough game for us.”

In addition to suffering the loss, freshman midfielder Sheldon McKoy was sent off after receiving two yellows and will be unavailable for the Knights' next match. While his loss will be noticed, Rutgers' depth eases the burden.

“You lose anybody, it’s a loss,” Donigan said. “but at the same time, we could rotate four guys in (the midfield) anyway, so Brandon Tetro will get the start. But any three of those four, we’re very confident in so I don’t think we’ll miss a beat.”

But after the dust settled as the final day of regular season play concluded, there were some positives to take from the night.

“The positive thing is, based on how everything wrapped up (Wednesday), we still host a game on Sunday against Northwestern,” Donigan said. “Thankfully, Wisconsin did a job for us against Northwestern and we get to host a quarterfinal match … We’re very excited about that and we’re looking to rebound from this tough loss.”

The Knights (11-5-1, 4-4-0) hope to repeat their success against the Wildcats (7-8-2, 4-4-0) earlier in the season. Rutgers defeated Northwestern, 4-2, in Chicago thanks to a strong start in attack and a heroic performance from junior goalkeeper David Greczek.

Grezcek saved a penalty kick 15 minutes after senior center back Drew Morgan opened the scoring off a corner from fellow senior center back Mitch Lurie for the Knights. The Fairfield, New Jersey, native finished the match with five crucial saves to preserve his team’s lead.

This time will be a bit different. Rutgers will have its fans pushing them on instead of having Wildcat fans cheering against them. While the crowd doesn’t make or break a team, it certainly doesn’t do any harm to Erik Sa.

“I’m excited. We’re happy we can to play a home game,” the junior midfielder said of his team’s matchup with Northwestern. “Our crowd’s been pretty good the last couple of games and we’ve been playing well at home in the last couple of games and we like our chances against the opponent, so we’re excited about it. We think we’re gonna be very ready for it.”

The Knights face Northwestern after facing defeat for the first time in a month. But while the loss to Maryland wasn’t a positive step in Rutgers' journey, they will not let it affect them moving forward.

The Knights still finished in fourth place in the regular season a year after finishing second-to-last in the Big Ten standings, needing a play-in game win against Wisconsin to guarantee a spot in the quarterfinals.

With the postseason beginning, Rutgers’ slate is wiped clean and the regular season no longer matters. The locker room remains optimistic as the Knights enter the most important stretch of the season.

“We’re not going to keep our heads down. It’s only one loss in eight games and we bounce back,” Greczek said. “We’re not going to let this affect us because we still have a season ahead of us — the postseason. We could still make the NCAA Tournament, it’s just a matter of playing well in the Big Ten Tournament. So everyone’s heads are up, everyone’s looking forward to the game on Sunday and that’s our main focus right now. Positive energy all the way around.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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