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No. 5 Rutgers falls to No. 1 Florida State in Final Four as historic season ends

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The Scarlet Knights lost to FSU 1-0 in heartbreaking fashion.

NCAA Womens Soccer: Women’s College Cup-Florida vs Rutgers
No. 15 Emily Mason’s header sailed inches over the crossbar in the closing minutes of the game.

With the clock ticking down with under ten seconds remaining and their season on the brink, Rutgers scrambled to get one last corner kick off with a chance to tie it. With every player running into position, a booming cross gave hope in the air that they would, but the Scarlet Knights were unable to find the equalizer. The whistle blew and the most accomplished team in program history had come up just short. The dream was over.

No. 5 Rutgers lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to the overall No. 1 seed, as ACC champion Florida State outlasted the Big Ten champions on the opposite side of the country. Reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner Jaelin Howell gathered the ball at the doorstep of the goal during a corner kick in the 71st minute and was able to finish for the game’s only goal. It sent the Seminoles to the national title game for the second straight season.

Rutgers pressed hard as they desperately tried to send the game into overtime once they were trailing. The Scarlet Knights took the game’s last six shots over the final 13 minutes of action. They hadn’t had any shots in the second half up to that point. Allison Lowrey delivered a strong shot in transition that was blocked and Frankie Tagliaferri followed on the rebound. However, FSU goalkeeper Cristina Roque made clutch saves on them both. RU then had three consecutive corner kicks with less than six minutes to play, but in a sequence on the last one that saw the ball touch three different players in the air, Emily Mason’s header went just over the bar by mere inches. Samantha Kroeger had a volley late that just sailed over the crossbar as well.

The top three scorers for Rutgers were kept in check by the Seminoles defense. Amirah Ali, Riley Tiernan and Frankie Tagliaferri could only register one shot apiece, all on goal. All three pushed at times and tried to generate scoring chances but the FSU defense executed their game plan by keeping them at bay.

Both teams registered 9 shots overall and 4 shots on goal in the game, while FSU held a 8-7 edge in corner kicks. The defense for both teams was sensational as Florida State came in 5th nationally averaging 2.83 goals per game while Rutgers was 10th nationally averaging 2.67 goals per game.

Scoring on a set piece was all the Seminoles needed and was really the only mistake that RU made in the game. With Howell surrounded and outnumbered, they were unable to clear the ball out of the box before it was too late.

Florida State survived due to clutch defense at the end and dominating possession, which limited Rutgers offensively for most of the game. The Scarlet Knights had just 3 shots in the game before the final 13 minute flurry at the end.

The game started much differently, as Florida State hit the post on a shot in the opening minutes and had Rutgers on their heels. They ultimately recovered and gradually gained their footing on the big stage.

While the result is disappointing, this team played its heart out in defeat. They gave the No. 1 team in the country all they could handle. It was painful to watch them fall just short, but there was also a beauty in seeing them give it their all and go down swinging. They generated some good chances and made FSU give it their all to survive. As head coach Mike O’Neill said after the game, the Scarlet Knights left it all out there on the field.

In asking O’Neill what his message was to the team after the loss, he went into detail.

“It was a tough one. It was,” O’Neill explained. “To get the opportunity to be with people and you watch them grow as people and grow as players. It gives you great joy to see what they accomplished. We talk all the time about when you come to Rutgers, you are competing for championships. This team changed that. The expectations now are to win championships because they did that this year. We are very disappointed in the result, but it was so important for us to let them know to keep their heads up and that we were proud of them. We’re 28 (players) strong and success is not possible if you don’t have the family and team dynamic. I just wanted them to take a moment and be thankful, keep their head up. That was the message.”

Rutgers finished this historic season with a 19-4-2 record, won the school’s and program’s first ever Big Ten regular season title and advanced to the College Cup for the second time in program history. O’Neill and the rest of the coaching staff did a tremendous job of blending the veteran experience on the roster with the talented newcomers to raise the level of play for this team that ultimately resulted in the best season in program history.

It was a special group that delivered a special season. While they came painfully close to tying the score at the end, this program achieved so much this fall. Rutgers women’s soccer has set the bar for every other program in the athletic department in regard to what a successful team should look and feel like. The Scarlet Knights may have lost on Friday night under the California lights, but they should return home with their heads held high and immense pride with how they performed this season.