No. 2 Penn State Escapes with 9-8 Decision

Colin Burke nets four goals for the Stags in the nationally-televised clash

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Led by four goals from Colin Burke, the Fairfield University men’s lacrosse team played No. 2 nationally-ranked Penn State to a dead heat for most of Friday afternoon’s encounter in State College. But ultimately, a Nittany Lions’ goal with 3:07 to play proved decisive as the hosts preserved their unbeaten season with a 9-8 decision.

Fairfield (2-5) is the first team to limit Penn State to less than 10 goals this season. Tyler Behring headed that effort in the cage with 14 saves, while the defensemen in front of him forced the Nittany Lions into 14 turnovers.

Burke’s four goals improved his team leading totals to 14 goals and 20 points. It also marked the second consecutive hat trick for the CAA Preseason Player of the Year. Travis Ford, Dave Fleming, Joe Rodrigues and Jake Knostman each added one goal with Knostman, Charlie Horning, Dylan Beckwith and Drew Murray each handing out an assist.

Penn State’s 8-0 start is the best in program history. The Nittany Lions were led by two goals and an assist from Nick Aponte and two Matt Florence goals.

After Will Fox came away with the opening draw, the Stags embarked on a nearly five-minute opening possession that resulted in the game’s first goal. After Fairfield fired six shots – including two on goal- the seventh from the back of the cage as Knostman converted a pass from Beckwith to stake the Stags to a 1-0 advantage.

Penn State would knot the game at 1-1 on a transition goal from Nick Aponte, but the Stags struck twice more in the opening quarter. First, Ford fired home a pass from Knostman to put Fairfield back on top following by Burke wrapping around and shaking his defender to cap the period with the Stags leading, 3-1.

The defenses continued to control the action in the second quarter. The Stags were kept off the board for the entire stanza, and Penn State scored twice in the final two minutes as the clubs went into the intermission knotted at 3-3.

The Stags started the scoring again in the second half. After the defense fought off a long Nittany Lions’ possession, Horning found Rodrigues in front, and the junior rattled the cage to put Fairfield back in front, 4-3. The lead was short lived, as Penn State scored just 95 seconds later, but the Stags responded with Burke’s second of the day – assisted by Murray – to make it a 5-4 game in favor of Fairfield. At that point, however, the nation’s highest scoring offense went on its first run of the day as the Nittany Lions scored the last three markers of the frame to head to the final quarter holding a 7-5 advantage.

Burke dialed up a pair of unassisted markers in the fourth quarter to tie the game again, and Fleming rifled one home from distance to put the Stags on top, 8-7. The lead lasted just nine seconds, however, as Penn State’s Gerard Arceri won the ensuing faceoff and went coast-to-coast to tie the game at 8-8 with 7:58 to play.

Unfortunately for the Stags, there was only one goal left to come in the contest, and it belonged to the Nittany Lions as Mike Sutton got the game winner for the hosts with 3:07 to play. Fairfield had one final opportunity to net the equalizer, but Penn State goalie Colby Kneese made the last and biggest of his 12 saves with 65 seconds to go and the Nittany Lions ran out the clock on a 9-8 decision.

“I’m incredibly proud of our performance and effort today,” said Head Coach Andy Copelan. “We’re not happy to be 2-5, but I think the silver lining is how much we’ve improved since the season began. When conference play rolls around, I’m not sure if there is another team in the country that will be as battle-tested as us with the schedule we’ve played so far. We just need to take that glass half-full mentality and get back to work next week.”

Up next, the Stags will play back-to-back home games for the first time this spring – and just their second and third home contests of the season overall – with visits from NJIT (Tuesday, March 21) and Villanova (Saturday, March 25). Next Saturday’s visit from the Wildcats, which will be broadcast live on ESPN3, marks the celebration of Fairfield University’s 75th Anniversary and the 25th varsity season of Fairfield men’s lacrosse.

The homestand will span three games in total as the Stags open their CAA slate with a visit from Hofstra under the lights on Conway Field at Rafferty Stadium on Saturday, April 1 at 7 p.m.