By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 14 Penn State men's lacrosse team (7-5, 1-2 Big Ten) may have lost an overtime game to No. 17 Johns Hopkins (7-4, 2-1 Big Ten) on Sunday evening, but the game was anything but dull. The Nittany Lions were able to keep the Blue Jays to less than a two-goal lead after the first quarter of play.
Johns Hopkins got on the board first in what seemed like a barrage of goals early on in the first quarter. Hopkins dominated possession time in the first half of the quarter, putting the Nittany Lions on defense early.
Despite allowing four early goals, the Nittany Lions were just getting warmed up. Quickly, the intensity of the game picked up and Penn State notched two goals to end the first quarter down by two.
Both goals, scored by junior attacker Nick Aponte, made the crowd of more than 2,700 go wild.
On Aponte's first goal, the attacker forced a turnover, gained
possession of the ball, and scored unassisted. His second goal, with one second
left on the clock in the first quarter, was a wrap around shot from the right
side of the net.
Aponte, a seasoned dodger, used his speed to his advantage when it came to beating defenders around the net. Aponte has developed his skills over the last two years and has become one of the more stable players on attack.
As the sun set over the field, the game of cat and mouse started.
To kick off the second quarter, Penn State notched a third goal as senior TJ Sanders netted his 22nd goal of the season. By the end of the second quarter the Blue Jays were still leading 6-5, but the Nittany Lions were far from giving up.
The crowd went wild once again as freshman attacker Nick Spillane gave the Nittany Lions their first tying goal of the night with 10 seconds to go in the third quarter. The score was even at seven apiece as Penn State's come-from-behind spirit propelled them into the fourth quarter.
The constant back-and-forth was exhausting for both teams who were determined to crank out a conference win. The Nittany Lions, fresh off an overtime loss to Maryland the Sunday prior, wanted to keep the Blue Jays guessing by changing up their defensive game between zone and man-to-man defense. Penn State's defense contributed to keeping Johns Hopkins' offense to no more than a two-point lead throughout three quarters of play.
Aponte again found the back of the net halfway through the fourth quarter, to bring the Nittany Lions within one goal of the 9-8 lead the Blue Jays had created. Junior midfielder Dan Craig made his way through traffic in front of the net to give the Nittany Lions their second tie of the night.
Aponte's fourth and final goal of the night, with 3:47 left in the fourth quarter, would once again bring the Nittany Lions within one point of the lead, this time with the Blue Jays leading 11-10.
Down by one late in the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions had time for one last play. The crowd rose to its feet and fans clapped as the Nittany Lions set up in the offensive zone. Redshirt junior attacker Matt Florence got the ball and cradled it on his left side. Switching to the right side, Florence worked his way around the defender and threw the ball to the goalie's left side.
With 29 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Florence gave Penn State the momentum it had been looking for, and tied the game. Under the bright lights of the Penn State lacrosse field, the Nittany Lions had come from behind and forced overtime.
"When we went into overtime, I just thought having been there before is important," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "Whether you win or lose there is a sense of calming that goes into that. I felt like these guys were prepared to win and Hopkins made a nice play defensively and then made the play they needed to offensively. So, sometimes it just comes down to that."
Penn State fell to Johns Hopkins, 12-11.
Despite last week's overtime loss to Maryland, Aponte explained that this game against Johns Hopkins was completely different.
"This one we had to fight back to get back in it," said Aponte.
Aponte noted how the team's determination allowed Penn State to stay close to Johns Hopkins on the scoreboard, but ultimately wasn't able to make the necessary play on offense in overtime.
"They're hurting for sure," said Tambroni. "We're going to have to get back after this immediately and make sure that our focus is where it needs to be headed into Rutgers."
Penn State plays at Rutgers on Friday at 8 p.m. The game will be aired on the Big Ten Network.