Men’s Soccer: Northwestern tallies first Big Ten loss in two years against Penn State

Junior+defenseman+Scott+Lakin+goes+for+a+header+in+Sunday%E2%80%99s+game+against+Penn+State.+The+game+looked+destined+for+a+draw+until+the+Nittany+Lions+scored+late+in+double+overtime.
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Men’s Soccer: Northwestern tallies first Big Ten loss in two years against Penn State

Junior defenseman Scott Lakin goes for a header in Sunday’s game against Penn State. The game looked destined for a draw until the Nittany Lions scored late in double overtime.

Junior defenseman Scott Lakin goes for a header in Sunday’s game against Penn State. The game looked destined for a draw until the Nittany Lions scored late in double overtime.

Meghan White/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior defenseman Scott Lakin goes for a header in Sunday’s game against Penn State. The game looked destined for a draw until the Nittany Lions scored late in double overtime.

Meghan White/Daily Senior Staffer

Meghan White/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior defenseman Scott Lakin goes for a header in Sunday’s game against Penn State. The game looked destined for a draw until the Nittany Lions scored late in double overtime.

Ava Wallace, Online Sports Editor

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Any spectator at Lakeside Field could have guessed the game was going into overtime.

No. 24 Northwestern (10-3-2, 3-1-0 Big Ten) and Penn State (9-4-2, 3-1-1) traded possession throughout a physical, evenly matched contest until the last seven minutes of double overtime. Then, Penn State’s Hasani Sinclair sneaked the ball past sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Miller off a rebound inside the box.

“The game was headed towards a draw,” coach Tim Lenahan said. “We got caught on the counter on the last play, the ball – I don’t know how – bounced right to the guy’s foot and Hasani Sinclair made a good play, and that’s what happens sometimes. They made a play, we didn’t make a play, and that’s the difference between the game.”

Sinclair’s goal cemented the Wildcats’ first Big Ten loss since November 2010 and sent Penn State to the top of the conference standings. No. 11 Indiana also lost its Sunday afternoon match to Michigan 2-1, which keeps Indiana and NU tied for second in the conference.

The Cats commanded possession for the first half-hour of the game and ultimately outshot the Nittany Lions 15-8. Penn State’s Andrew Wolverton was forced to make five saves throughout the extended match.

But again, NU had trouble finishing plays. Despite a barrage of shots at the end of the first half and impressive crosses throughout the game from players such as junior midfielder Lepe Seetane and junior defender Scott Lakin, the Cats struggled to find numbers in the Nittany Lions’ territory and couldn’t convert opportunities.

Both teams’ transitions were so quick that the back-and-forth game was a test of defensive lines. Penn State similarly struggled to capitalize on opportunities in NU’s domain, but after halftime, the Nittany Lions increased their pressure and forced turnovers in the midfield, where the Cats are usually dominant.

“We managed the game very well, particularly in the first half,” Lenahan said. “They made some adjustments tactically that kind of took away some of our ability to possess the ball in the midfield – they were playing such a high line that our only option was to go over the top on them a little bit. If you’re successful in doing that, then they have to back up their line, and then you can play in the middle of the field. We weren’t really successful in making that play.”

Although Miller had only one save for the game, he was a pivotal part of the defense, especially when Penn State was aggressively challenging NU’s back line during the final minutes of regular play. Before Penn State, Miller hadn’t allowed a goal since Oct. 9, when NU defeated Notre Dame 2-1.

Despite a frustratingly scoreless 100 minutes, the Penn State match was markedly different from the sluggish showings that resulted in the team’s two other losses this season to DePaul and Bradley.

The team’s strong performance Sunday has Lenahan looking forward to Wednesday evening’s home game against Northern Illinois, a team he said is “always tough.” The Cats hold a 3-2 edge over the Huskies in five consecutive regular-season matchups. 

“Although I’m disappointed with the (Penn State) result, I’m not disappointed with how we played,” Lenahan said. “Of the three games we’ve lost, this is the best we’ve played. I’m looking forward to a big performance on Wednesday.”

Sunday’s game was also NU’s last home conference game of the season, and the team’s six graduating seniors were honored before the match began.

Commenting on the seniors’ legacy in the wake of the team’s first conference loss in two years, Lenahan mentioned the seniors’ 12-6 overall conference record.

“We won four games in the first 15 years – that puts it in perspective, what they’ve done,” Lenahan said. “Their legacy is this is the best Big Ten team we’ve ever had. … I think they leave a very tough mark.”

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