Rutgers maintains perfect record in 12-6 win over Fairfield

<p>Senior long-stick midfielder Zack Sickora attempts to clear the ball in Rutgers’ 12-6 win over Fairfield at High Point Solution Stadium.</p>

Senior long-stick midfielder Zack Sickora attempts to clear the ball in Rutgers’ 12-6 win over Fairfield at High Point Solution Stadium.

Off a feed from senior attacker Scott Bieda, Jules Heningburg found the back of the net one minute and 26 seconds into the first quarter.

The sophomore attacker’s goal gave the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team its first lead of the afternoon over Fairfield.

It was a lead the Scarlet Knights would never relinquish.

Although the Stags were staunch in not allowing the Knights to ever run away with the game, Rutgers (3-0) was in control from start to finish in an eventual 12-6 win over Fairfield (0-3) at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday.

The Knights’ win over the Stags — their third consecutive to open the season — marks Rutgers’ best start to a season since 2011 when it reeled off victories in its first four games.

“I was proud of the win,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “Obviously, there’s always learning experiences that we can take from each game win or loss. ...  The guys in (Rutgers’) locker room should be proud … That’s a great win for us. It’s still February, but I like going into the month of March being 3-0, I’ll tell you that right now.”

Although the Knights led for the final 58-plus minutes and held a lead of at least three for the last 40 minutes, Fairfield made Rutgers work for its third victory of 2016.

In front of a tough net minder, the Stags’ defense didn’t allow the Knights to have many open looks at the net. While Rutgers held a large advantage in shots and groundballs, Fairfield locked down and forced the Knights into long possessions when it gained the offensive zone.

Of the 23 shots Rutgers was able to get on net, goalie Tyler Behring — who was coming off a 23-save effort against Bucknell— stopped 11 of them. 

The combination of Behring and a swarming Stags’ defense was the main reason the Knights held leads of just two, four and four at the conclusion of the first three quarters.

But even a strong goaltender and an active defense couldn’t contain Rutgers’ trio of top offensive horses for a full 60 minutes.

Heningburg led the way with an efficient four goals on five shots while picking up an assist. Right behind him was redshirt freshman sensation Adam Charalambides with three goals, giving him a total of 13 on the young season, and an assist.

Finally, the centerpiece of the trio, senior captain Scott Bieda, picked up all five of his assists on Heningburg and Charalambides goals and also added an empty-net goal with 34 seconds remaining in the contest.

Rutgers’ offense wasn’t fuming like it was in its opener against St. John’s, but it was patient in the offensive zone and scored timely goals.

“We came in knowing he was a good goalie and we just had to get dunks more so than taking shots outside the paint,” Heningburg said. “We got away from it a little during the game, but then we found it a couple times.”

Trailing 9-4 late in the third quarter, Fairfield began to gain momentum for the first time all afternoon. A goal from Drew Murray marked the first time the Stags had scored consecutive goals in the game and drew the score to 9-5 with under two minutes remaining.

With the final seconds running out in the quarter, Jake Knostman got a free look at the net and fired a shot at sophomore goalie Max Edelmann. 

Going to his knees, Edelmann secured his seventh save of the day as the third quarter ended. But when he tried to get up, the Middletown, Maryland, native went right back to the ground, as he was injured on the save.

Unable to return, senior Kris Alleyne — who has 36 career starts — subbed into the game in Edelmann's place. 

On the Stags’ first shot of the fourth quarter, Charlie Schnider beat Alleyne to cut the deficit to three with over 12 minutes left on the clock, the closest it had been since just under the 10-minute mark of the second quarter.

But the Knights’ swiftly regrouped and stymied Fairfield’s comeback effort. 

Heningburg and Charalambides added goals in the next four minutes of action to bring the home team’s lead back to five. On top of that, Alleyne settled in and saved all three of the shots he faced for the remainder of the quarter.

“The message was just keep playing,” said senior long-stick midfielder Zack Sikora on what the message to the team was after Fairfield cut the lead to three. “We knew what we had to do. We believe in Kris. Kris is a great goalie, he always has been and we got his back and he has ours. So we just had to keep playing, there was no change in an attitude really, it was just keep doing your job.”

Although the offense has captured most of the limelight through the first two games, the Knights’ defense had been consistently sound as well and they were just that yet again on Saturday.

Rutgers only allowed a total of 16 shots to reach the net, 10 of which were saved by the duo of goalies. It also caused 10 of the Stags’ 15 turnovers and were a perfect 20-for-20 on clear attempts. 

The six total goals was the fewest Rutgers had given up since the 2014 season, when it held Monmouth to just four.

On a day where the Knights offense had to solve the Stags’ defense and goalie, their defense allowed them all the time they needed to put points up on the board.

“I think we definitely got together as a team,” Sikora said on the defensive performance. “We let three goals up each half and I think being able to come together like that gives us confidence that a Rutgers’ defense has never had, at least since I’ve been here. I’m just really excited for what this team holds for us.”

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

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