It was a night that really could have soured the early days of the Penn State women’s soccer season.
Trailing 2-0 with 10 minutes left is hardly the way to kick off the season.
“This team has a high bar, a high standard this year,” head coach Erica Walsh said. “To give up two goals on Jeffrey Field, on opening night with this type of crowd, is inexcusable.”
The pessimism was erased quickly, however, with two goals 34 seconds apart in those final 10 minutes as the No. 4 Nittany Lions rallied for a 2-2 tie Friday night against West Virginia.
“Being down 2-0 on Jeffrey Field, that just brought out the blue-collar mentality that we have,” senior forward Tani Costa said. “The grittiness and fight that we have, the fight that we have for each other, it’s something special and we really showed that tonight.”
Taylor Schram and Maya Hayes netted the quick-strike goals for the Nittany Lions, who playing their first game since falling to North Carolina in last season’s national championship.
Frances Silva and Kelsie Maloney scored for the Mountaineers.
The 2-0 deficit was starting to look daunting, especially since the Nittany Lions held a shot advantage but could not finish the opportunities. They finished the match with a 21-12 edge in shots.
“Never get our heads down, never take our eye off what we’re trying to do,” Hayes said. “It showed with that 2-2 tie. Obviously, we’re not excited about that tie. It’s not how we wanted to start the season, but for us to come back from 2-0 deficit shows our pride and our heart on this field.”
Hayes and Schram started the comeback with a 2-on-1 break up the field, with Hayes dribbling on a defender before slipping the pass to Schram on the left. The senior took a couple touches before poking the ball inside the far post.
“It was her and I and we took advantage of it, went straight to goal with it,” said Hayes, who noted how hard it was to stay patient and let the play develop before passing to her fellow senior. “She tucked it away nicely.”
The raucous crowd of 3,742 was still roaring when the Nittany Lions broke down the field again to tie it. Right after the ensuing kickoff, Mallory Weber carried the ball deep near the goal line and slid it to Hayes.
“Mal Weber got down that line as fast as she possibly could,” Hayes said. “I was trying to keep up with her and I did and I knew exactly where the ball was going. It was a matter of getting to it and putting it in.”
After the first goal, Walsh was weighing her options of what to do with 9:25 on the clock.
“You have a feeling as a coach — do you change back to the way you were playing before?” Walsh wondered. “But we had so much momentum at that point. The crowd was just amazing. They were all behind us. We would be foolish, we would be crazy not to keep pushing.”
The Mountaineers also had to know that Penn State, which led the nation in goal-scoring a season ago, could not be held silent for a full 90 minutes.
“They put so much pressure on us,” coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. “They found ways to break us down. Unfortunately, a great team did that and we’ve got to learn from it.”
The Nittany Lions thought they had the game winner less than three minutes into overtime with a Raquel Rodriguez free kick from about 40 yards out finding the head of Costa to skim the ball into the net. But the celebration was quickly doused by an offsides call.
“It’s pretty frustrating because we worked so hard to get in the box, to get the numbers in and to get what we want out of our plays, but it’s always a heartbreaker having it called back. I always celebrate too early.”
It was the second time a Costa goal had been wiped away by an offsides call. She had put in a rebound midway through the first half after a Hayes attempt.
“I know I wasn’t offsides — I’m pretty sure I wasn’t offsides,” Costa said of the overtime action. “…It’s frustrating, but I’m going to keep doing it.”
West Virginia struck just 4:18 into the contest, immediately after a flurry of three Penn State shots at the other end of the field, with Silva open on the doorstep to redirect a pass across the penalty box from Maloney.
Maloney then put her score in the net with just over 20 minutes remaining, taking a cross from Ashley Lawrence near the corner and heading the ball over keeper Britt Eckerstrom, who made three saves.
West Virginia keeper Sara Keane stopped eight Penn State shots, but it was two quick strikes she could not deny that salvaged what could have been a rocky start to the season for the Nittany Lions.
“We have a lot of seniors that have been in those situations that have come back,” Walsh said. “Of course you’re nervous, of course you’re changing lineups and trying to find solutions and we kept moving pieces around until it worked.”
Notes: A large crowd filled the parking lots before the game tailgating. … In the opening match of the weekend’s Penn State Invitational, Syracuse rallied to beat Hofstra 3-2. … The Nittany Lions will host Hofstra at noon Sunday.