UNIVERSITY PARK — The game was down to the final minutes of regulation, and the nation’s most prolific offense was getting shut out while a record run of Big Ten championships was on the line.
Christine Nairn handled the pressure just fine.
With 4:53 left, the midfielder drilled a penalty kick to draw the No. 4 Penn State women’s soccer team even 1-1 with No. 17 Michigan, and the teams played through two overtime periods without another score Sunday afternoon at Jeffrey Field.
The tie secured a 15th consecutive Big Ten regular season title for the Nittany Lions (15-2-1, 9-0-1), extending their own conference record.
“It’s always awesome to win the league,” Nairn said. “That’s what one of our team goals is, and now we can cross that off our list.”
The Wolverines (13-3-2, 7-1-2) were the only team that could end the streak and did their best defensively, with keeper Haley Kopmeyer making 12 saves even as Penn State peppered her end of the field with a 31-9 advantage in shots.
The scenario was giving head coach Erica Walsh flashbacks to 2010, when it took an Ali Schaefer goal with 17 seconds left in the second overtime to beat Michigan — and Kopmeyer — 1-0 to earn a tie for the conference crown that season with Ohio State.
“These guys were crawling off the field when we were subbing,” Walsh said. “I thought the effort was fantastic. A couple years ago it worked for us and today we got a tie.”
Even with a loss Penn State still could have won the title outright with a win at Purdue on Friday to close the regular season, but getting to hoist the trophy at home on Senior Day was the preferred result.
“We have a huge tradition here at Penn State,” said senior defender Whitney Church. “We like to play for those who came before us and we’ve got a 15 (season) win streak going on here and it means a lot to us. That’s what we play for and work for all year.”
Nkem Ezurike had put Michigan ahead with 30:29 left in regulation, chipping the ball over keeper Erin McNulty, who made five saves, after a long free kick by Christina Murillo was redirected by the head of Shelby Garcia-Chambers.
Penn State kept hammering shots at the other end of the field but never found success until a fantastic flurry in the penalty box with five minutes left. The first Lion shot was blocked by Kopmeyer, but she could not control the rebound as it bounced to her right. In a scrum of bodies, Taylor Schram got her foot on the ball and rang it off the post, and another flurry ensued with two Wolverines and a Nittany Lion collapsing to the grass. A foul was called, setting up Nairn’s heroics.
“We practice them all the time and in games,” Nairn said. “It was just kind of more of a just-getting-it-overwith kind of feeling. I have confidence in my team for anybody to step up and take it, but if it’s me I have confidence and the team has confidence in me.”
“She was real clutch with scoring that PK,” Church said. “We all have faith in her. We know she can do it.”
The Nittany Lions entered the weekend leading Division I in scoring at 3.25 goals per game, then put up a 5-1 win over Michigan State on Friday. They had not been shut out all year and had only been held to a single goal one other time — a 3-1 loss at BYU in early September before they put on a 10-game win streak.
“(Michigan) had a great game plan,” Walsh said. “(It was) a different wrinkle that we hadn’t seen yet. They were fantastic.”
Maya Hayes, who was held without a point in a game for the first time this season, had the last of several sparkling opportunities for the team with about 30 seconds left in the second overtime when she turned a ripped a shot from the top of the penalty box, but the ball sailed wide.