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No. 22 Rutgers remains unbeaten at home with win over St. Peter's

Coming into its final non-conference game of the season, the Rutgers men's soccer team was riding high. Seven games into the year, they found themselves still unbeaten — a feat not seen on the Banks since 1987. 

Before they could focus entirely on the Big Ten slate, the No. 21 Scarlet Knights (6-0-2, 0-0-1) had to take care of business against MAAC opponent St. Peter’s. They grinded out the result, earning a 2-1 victory over the Peacocks (3-4-0) at Yurcak Field yesterday.

Rutgers controlled much of the possession throughout the first half, easing the pressure on the Knights backline and keeping St. Peter's from generating any attack.

“This game we did a pretty good job in the first half of keeping the ball and going from goal to goal,” said junior defender Vincent Borden.

The first real opportunity for either side came for Rutgers in the 23rd minute. Sophomore midfielder Pablo Ávila played a perfectly timed through ball to true freshman midfielder Jackson Temple inside the box. The freshman slotted it inside the right post to put the Knights up 1-0.

True freshman goalkeeper Oren Asher only had to make one save in the entire first half, and Rutgers went into the break cruising with a 1-goal lead.

Out of the break, the Knights doubled their lead quickly. Sophomore defender Thomas DeVizio brought the ball down the right-hand side, squaring it inside the 18 for Ávila, who converted for the second goal.

The insurance goal would last just 53 seconds, as the Peacocks' Jordan Jowers got on the end of a cross from the right flank to get Saint Peter's on the board. 

Rutgers went into survival mode after that, with neither side generating any meaningful opportunities in the final 40 minutes. It got choppy in the midfield for long stretches and the Knights lost the foothold that they had earlier.

“I think both teams could’ve used more quality in the midfield, but I think it just comes down to heavy legs,” said head coach Jim McElderry. “These Tuesday games in the middle of the season are not easy.”

Tempers flared in the 88th minute, as Rutgers attempted to dribble out the clock in the corner. Temple was hacked from behind after the ball went out for a throw-in, and the ensuing physicality resulted in two red cards for St. Peter's, who finished with nine men.

While it wasn’t pretty at times, the Knights got another clutch win to wrap up the non-conference slate unbeaten. Overall, they feel they’re in a pretty good spot.

“Coach just summed it up in the huddle — if we were given 6-0-2 at the beginning of the season, we would’ve taken it in a heartbeat,” Borden said.

Now the focus shifts to the Big Ten — starting with a Friday night date with Michigan State, who finished in the Final Four last season. It’s a challenge McElderry’s team hasn’t faced this season.

“They have some of the best players in the country (and) we’re well aware of how difficult it’s going to be,” McElderry said. “That’s why we’re here and we’re looking forward to it.”

For updates on the Rutgers men's soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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