Run-and-Gun Rutgers Stymies Penn to Clinch Championship Weekend Berth


Shane Knobloch scored three times in Rutgers' 11-9 win over Penn.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Rutgers once again found itself in a seesaw game, 15 minutes away from the program’s promised land at Shuart Stadium.

There had to be at least an inkling of memories from last year’s overtime loss to North Carolina on the same field in the NCAA quarterfinals. But far more attention was fixed on the opportunity at hand Saturday.

“Tommy Coyne came in the huddle, and said, ‘We’ve been here before. It’s tied up, and if we win the quarter, we win the game,’” long stick midfielder Ethan Rall recalled about an hour later. “We knew it was our time to go on a run.”

The sixth-seeded Scarlet Knights capitalized on a burst in the final 10 minutes, pulling away for an 11-9 defeat of third-seeded Penn to reach the NCAA semifinals for the first time in program history. Rutgers (15-3) will meet either seventh-seeded Cornell or unseeded Delaware in East Hartford, Conn., next Saturday.

Colin Kirst made 12 of his 18 saves in the second half, Shane Knobloch scored three times and defensive midfielder Cole Daninger had a career-high three assists for Rutgers, which uncorked a celebration decades in the making after Kirst heaved the ball skyward in the closing seconds.

“It’s crazy to see the progression,” Daninger said. “Freshman year, coming in and I think we were 7-8. Now, senior year, we’re really rolling, and it’s just great to see it come together.”

Penn (11-5) fell in the quarterfinals for the second time in four years. The Quakers, whose only trip to the semifinals came in 1988, got four goals and an assist from Dylan Gergar. The senior finished with 52 goals, joining former teammate Adam Goldner (56 goals in 2019) as the only players in school history with 50-goal seasons.

Still, Penn shot just 9 of 46 and leaned on its settled defense to keep it in the game.

“We were just kind of waiting for our offense to get going, to be frank,” coach Mike Murphy said. “In the first half, we labored through some things and the ball wasn’t moving as quickly as we wanted.”

Even with those struggles, it was 6-6 entering the fourth quarter, and the Quakers took their first lead with a pair of goals while monopolizing possession for the first five minutes of the period. But after a Kirst save, Rutgers cleared and called a timeout that settled things and set up a 5-0 run.

Knobloch scored off a Mitch Bartolo feed out of the timeout, and Bartolo tied it 24 seconds later after Ross Scott zipped him a pass. And with that, Rutgers wouldn’t trail again.

“I think we kind of just kept saying we needed to get the ball,” Knobloch said. “The defense got the stop, we got the ball and we got rolling.”

The go-ahead goal stemmed from Rutgers’ great advantage throughout the afternoon. Daninger, already with two assists, found Dante Kulas for a transition goal with 5:38 to go.

“That’s us,” Daninger said. “We like to run-and-gun. We like to play early offense.”

A fitting coda, then, came when defenseman Bryant Boswell picked up an errant pass on the bounce, ran half the length of the field and beat goalie Patrick Burkinshaw (14 saves) with 64 seconds remaining.

In the end, the Quakers struggled to contain one of Rutgers’ trademarks — even if the Scarlet Knights have been more content to generate offense in 6-on-6 settings this season.

“Part of the challenge for us was not doing a good enough job of taking away the transition,” Murphy said. “Three of their last five goals were scored by defensive personnel, and we didn’t do a particularly good job of converting from our offensive end to the defensive end. I thought that was the difference in the end. We played well enough to get a lead, but let them off the hook.”

Burkinshaw was exceptional early on, making 11 saves in the first half and keeping the Quakers in the game while their offense took time to find itself. Penn was scoreless for more than 16 minutes, and it also caught a cruel break when it had a goal wiped out because of a crease violation caused by a Coyne push.

To make matters worse: Rall scored a man-down transition goal as the penalty expired.

It was also a rough day for Tewaaraton Award finalist Sam Handley. The midfielder had three assists but shot 0-for-7 and sailed a clear look wide of the cage off a turnover when it was tied in the middle of the fourth quarter. He also was credited with four turnovers.

“I didn’t think he pressed much,” Murphy said. “A couple turnovers were good looks that Rutgers just got a stick on. They’re opportunistic with their interceptions on those through passes. He just didn’t shoot very well. He had the one breakaway when Piper Bond gave him that look 3-on-2 and he just missed it wide. I can’t blame the kid for that. He played his tail off.”

While the Quakers’ saw their seven-game winning streak end, their season in its entirety firmly demonstrated their 2019 run to the quarterfinals was not a blip. They didn’t have that chance in 2020, when the pandemic cut the season short, or last year, when they played just one game because of Ivy League restrictions.

Saturday also validated Rutgers’ continued progress under Brian Brecht. The Scarlet Knights nearly made the NCAA tournament in 2016 and 2017, then finally broke through a year ago for their first NCAA berth since 2004 and first postseason victory since 1990 when they beat Lehigh in the first round before the overtime setback in the quarterfinals.

Now, they’ve taken a step forward. Prior to last year, Rutgers was 2-9 all-time in the NCAA tournament. Over the last two postseasons, they’re 3-1.

And they’re not finished yet.

“The goal is to play for championships, and we have a couple guys on our team in Brian Ward and Ronan Jacoby who have won championships,” Brecht said, referencing Ward’s role on Yale’s 2018 championship team and Jacoby’s efforts for Division III champ Wesleyan the same year. “Certainly we need to join their club, and we have a week together to keep moving forward and getting better.”


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