By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-Less than a month ago, Brett Gravatt was a bench player trying to fight his way into the lineup for the Penn State men's soccer team.
Now, he's the player that sent the Nittany Lions to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
During Penn State's first round game against Hartwick Thursday night, the reserve midfielder scored the first goal of his career with 16 minutes remaining to give the Lions a thrilling 2-1 win.
"Wow," Gravatt said afterwards. "I felt excitement, I guess. I'm glad I could help."
Although the feat may seem impressive itself, it doesn't give complete justice
to the beauty of the sophomore's goal.
Taking the ball on the right side of the box, Gravatt separated himself
from a defender with a quick move to his left, then fired a rocket that curled
past goaltender Tom Buckner and into the top left corner of the net.
As teammates engulfed him in celebration, Gravatt simply turned and
walked towards the Penn State sidelines.
"One of my strengths is [one-on-one] so I like to go at people," Gravatt said. "I was able to beat him inside and got the shot off and I got lucky and it went in. I curled it pretty well and I guess I hit it pretty well."
Not only did the goal give the Nittany Lions a lead they wouldn't
relinquish, it was a moment that Gravatt had spent the entire season working
After coming back from a torn meniscus in the offseason and playing just 84 minutes in Penn State's first 16 games combined, the Dunn Loring, Virginia native finally got into the starting lineup during the Lions' previous two games against Akron and Michigan State.
While the sophomore didn't enter the game until the second half against Hartwick, he made sure his presence was felt when the opportunity arose.
"The message to the guys before the game was, 'don't blend in, standout'" head coach Bob Warming said. "When the game is over with, know that you've stood out in some manner, that you made a big play, that you helped your team win and obviously Brett did that. He took advantage of a moment and helped our team come through."
It may have been Gravatt's first tally of the season, but it didn't come as a surprise to any of his teammates, who are used to seeing such plays from the midfielder in practice.
"Yeah, we've seen him do that a lot," senior forward Mikey Minutillo
"All the time," midfielder Brian James added.
However, the goal was more than just a big moment for Gravatt. It was
also proved that the Nittany Lions were capable of coming from behind in the
second half with their season on the line.
After playing the Hawks to a draw in the first half despite outshooting them eight to two, Penn State fell behind less than a minute into the second when a scrum in front of the net produced a goal by Jhevaughn Beckford.
Down 1-0 and with only 44 minutes remaining to salvage their season, the
Lions didn't roll over and quit. Instead, they responded by continuing to
create chances in the Hartwick zone.
Just over 13 minutes after Beckford's goal, Minutillo answered for the
Lions, beating Buckner to a ball from midfielder Drew Klingenberg and tapping
it past the goalie to knot the score at 1-1.
Afterwards, the 6-foot-1 forward admitted he was nervous as he watched a
Hawks defender nearly prevent the ball from ending up in the net.
"To be honest, I was a little doubtful that it was going to go in," Minutillo said. "That center back came in sliding and he got a piece of it, but luckily it had enough pace, but as it was rolling I just wanted it to go faster and faster and thank god it did."
In total, the Nittany Lions outshot the Hawks 17 to seven in a hard fought, physical game. What impressed Warming the most though, was seeing the fortitude of his players after they fell behind.
Soccer is a low scoring game, and one goal can often be enough to determine a winner. But on Thursday, the Nittany Lions overcame that and found a way to chip away at the Hawks' defense until the game was won.
The NCAA Tournament is now in full swing, and Penn State is sure to see
another challenge when it takes on Syracuse on the road on Sunday. Still, wins
like this prove the team will not go away without a fight.
"You know what I liked the most, is that we've had games this year where we had a goal scored on us and for the next few minutes we were a little poor," Warming said. "[Tonight], I thought we stepped it up a little better. We just kept going, kept going at them. I was really excited about that because it means that your team has confidence and they feel they're going to win it. I think not having that self doubt anymore is going to help us."