Despite being ranked 10th in the country, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team faced a must win situation at home on Sunday night against #11th ranked Penn State. After suffering one goal defeats on previous Sunday contests against Big Ten powers #1 Maryland and #7 Johns Hopkins, the Scarlet Knights needed to win their final two regular season games to have a chance to qualify for both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. After an 11-8 victory over the Nittany Lions, they are now one win away from advancing to the four team conference tournament.
Christian Mazzone and Kieran Mullins led the way with three goal apiece, while Jules Heningburg added two goals andp two assists. Defenseman Michael Rexrode was dominant in shutting down Nick Spillane, who totaled seven points in Penn State’s recrnt upset win over Johns Hopkins. Spillane had zero points on Sunday night. Goalie Max Edelmann had another big game, finishing with 11 saves and he ended up holding Penn State to their second lowest goal output this season.
“It’s a sixty-minute game, and we put ourselves in good position with how we played in the first half to be able to weather a bit of a run,” head coach Brian Brecht explained. “Penn State’s a very talented team. I thought we did a pretty good job when we had the opportunities in the second half. Our offense has been playing pretty well, and they made some big plays in the fourth quarter to allow us to bring it home.”
With the score tied at 3 early on, Rutgers finished the first half with four consecutive goals, highlighted by this transition score by Chad Toliver.
It was the type of surge Rutgers needed to gain separation against a dangerous opponent in a game the home team needed to win.
After the break, senior star and Big Ten points leader, Jules Heningburg, made history, becoming the only the fourth player in Rutgers history to eclipse the 200 point mark in his career with this goal.
Soon after with Rutgers comfortably leading 9-5, Penn State jumped back into the game with three consecutive goals of their own. It was just a one scgame with over 12 minutes remaining and every Rutgers fan in attendance or watching live on BTN began to dread the possibility of another heartbreaking defeat. Instead, the Scarlet Knights defense held strong and two late goals in the final three minutes sealed the victory! Rutgers now leads the all-time series with Penn State 43-22 that dates back to 1946.
Rutgers (9-4; 2-2) is now in a three way tie for third place in the Big Ten with Penn State (8-5; 2-2) and Ohio State (7-6; 2-2). Next up is the final regular season contest against the Buckeyes in Columbus next Saturday. The game will be shown live at 4 p.m. on BTN.
Rutgers controls its own destiny and can clinch a Big Ten Tournament berth with a victory. It’s likely the Scarlet Knights will need to win at least one game in the conference tournament to finally break through to the NCAA Tournament, something they fell just short of the past two seasons. Their RPI ranking entering Sunday’s game was 13th. If ths veteran team can apply the lessons learned from previous tight defeats this season and close out opponents like they did against Penn State, this team can make a real run in the postseason.