As Yankee legend Yogi Berra used to say, “It’s deja vu all over again.” For the second time in six days, No. 5 Rutgers women’s soccer advanced in a penalty shootout in the NCAA Tournament.
On Sunday, the Scarlet Knights advanced 5-4 in seven frames over Big XII champion TCU. On Friday night, RU advanced 4-2 in just four frames to move past SEC champion Arkansas (19-4-1) . Rutgers advances to the College Cup (Final Four) for the second time in program history in what was an extremely competitive game.
It was a wild start to the Elite Eight matchup, as Arkansas’ Parker Goins, the SEC Midfielder of the Year, hit the post on a shot in the very first minute of the game. Rutgers responded instantly, as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Riley Tiernan, put the home team in front in just the second minute of the game with a tremendous shot from the 18 yard line. It was a rocket with so much force and movement that Arkansas goalkeeper Hannah Warner could only get a hand on but not stop the shot from hitting the back of the net. It was the 8th goal of the season for Tiernan and it was assisted by Sara Brocious and Frankie Tagliaferri.
Arkansas, who came into the game second in the nation in scoring with a 3.00 goals per game average, quickly responded. In the eighth minute, First Team All-SEC performer Anna Podojil scored her 16th goal of the season with a perfectly beautiful shot that Rutgers goalkeeper Meagan McClelland had no chance to save. It was assisted by First Team All-SEC selection Taylor Malham.
Volley for the tie pic.twitter.com/u7rtjRG1bo— Razorback Soccer (@RazorbackSoccer) November 27, 2021
Arkansas only ramped up their attacking style after tying the game and ultimately took the lead in the 15th minute off of a corner kick. Reagan Swindall was able to finish the service from Parker Goins.
Set piece goals >>> pic.twitter.com/iQYPYFqSva— Razorback Soccer (@RazorbackSoccer) November 27, 2021
The Razorbacks were relentless after taking a 2-1 lead and there was a period where it felt like they might run away with the game. They were physically dominating play with possession and knocking Rutgers off the ball.
To their credit, Rutgers regrouped and weathered the storm. The only three-time All-American in program history, Amirah Ali, led the response in making a nice run deep into the box, but was knocked down by a defender and missed the goal on her shot. However, as the Scarlet Knights defense continued to bend but not break, Ali broke through with the equalizer in the 43rd minute. Becci Fluchel found Tiernan, who delivered a perfectly placed pass at the foot of Ali, who finished it with pace on the ball. It was her 12th goal of the season.
AMIRAH. ALI‼️— RUWS | BIG TEN CHAMPIONS (@RUWSoccer) November 27, 2021
Ali ties up the game with a score in the 43rd minute! Becci FLuchel and Riley Tiernan on the assists to make this a 2-2 game! pic.twitter.com/G7XukBZPEd
It was tied 2-2 at the half as Rutgers held a 12-11 edge in shots, despite Arkansas dominating for portions of the opening frame.
In the second half, Rutgers slowly began taking control of the action and while Arkansas continued to attack, they were not as physically dominant. Both teams registered 11 shots but neither team could break the tie before the end of regulation. The Razorbacks put the pressure on in the last five minutes but couldn’t score, followed by the Scarlet Knights taking the last two shots of regulation in the final minute plus.
Arkansas had a tremendous one on one opportunity on a breakaway early in the first overtime but two-time national high school player of the year, freshman Emily Mason, made a season saving play in cleanly dispensing of the ball in the box without fouling the opposing player. It was a gutsy play that was executed flawlessly.
Rutgers almost won the game at the end of the first overtime, as Riley Tiernan delivered a bullet from the left side that was saved by Hannah Warner. Soon after in the closing seconds, Big Ten Defender of the Year Gabby Provenzano drove forward and found Amirah Ali breaking free inside the box. However, Warner broke off her line and Ali was unable to get the proper touch on the ball and the shot went wide right. It was a golden opportunity that left Ali visibly distraught as the teams went back to the sidelines between overtime sessions.
The Scarlet Knights were the stronger side in double overtime and had three shots but were unable to score. Freshman Kylie Daigle really played well in the overtime sessions in replace of Frankie Tagliaferri. She made several key changes in possession and played with confidence and pace.
Rutgers outshot Arkansas 7-4 in the two overtime sessions. However, the whistle ultimately blew after 110 minutes of play and RU was headed to another penalty kick shootout.
Goalkeeper Meagan McClelland, who made three straight saves in the shootout that RU advanced on in the Sweet Sixteen against No. 8 TCU last Sunday, set the tone again by saving the first shot attempt from Arkansas. Becci Fluchel and Amirah Ali scored on their PK attempts as Rutgers held a 2-1 lead through two frames. The next Arkansas shooter hit the post and then McClelland once again stepped up and made her own penalty kick to give RU a commanding 3-1 advantage. After the Razorbacks cut it to 3-2 in the fourth frame, Riley Tiernan stepped to the line and ended it with a strike that sent Rutgers advancing to the Final Four for the second time in program history and first since 2015.
It was as impressive a performance from a Rutgers team then we’ve seen in some time. The stakes involved, the way Arkansas was bullying RU in the first half, the adjustments made and their ability to win a penalty kick shootout in a dominant way made it such a memorable victory.
There were so many players who stepped up and had big moments, but none were bigger than Riley Tiernan. She scored the first goal, set up the second and then sent the team forward to the Final Four with a decisive penalty kick. Amirah Ali and Meagan McClelland, who made seven saves before the shootout, had key moments as well.
No. 5 Rutgers (19-3-2) will now face the No. 1 team in the country, Florida State (20-1-2), on Friday, December 3 in Santa Clara, California at Stevens Stadium. The Seminoles defeated Big Ten foe Michigan on Friday in the Elite Eight 1-0 in overtime. RU beat the Wolverines 4-1 in the regular season before falling 1-0 in the Big Ten Championship game. The Scarlet Knights have won four since and are the lone Big Ten team to advance to the College Cup.
We will have plenty of coverage leading up to Friday’s national semifinal in the days ahead.