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By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On Friday night, the Penn State Nittany Lions (1-1-2, 0-0-0 B1G) and the Saint Francis Red Flash (2-3-0, 0-0-0 NEC) faced off in a grueling 110-minute defensive battle under the lights of Jeffrey Field. Christian Sload's heroics in the final seconds of double overtime rewarded the Blue and White's dynamic defensive play, and tallied their first win of the season, 1-0.
"Amazing for the team," said forward Sload on the win. "I don't care if I scored that goal, I wouldn't care if anybody scored that goal. Just good to get that win."
As the minutes ticked down to 36 seconds left in the game, Sload's goal came off of a pass into the top of the box from midfielder Mikey Conneh. Sload then connected to sail the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
In Sload's case history really does repeat itself as he continues to make an impact in the offensive third for the Blue and White. Last year Sload's first and only goal of the season manifested against Saint Francis; this year he did much of the same, but this time around the result favored Penn State.
"Amazing, I don't have any other word," said Sload. "I am out of breathe right now, it is just overwhelming. Just finally getting one under the belt, now we know more are going to come now we just needed that momentum and now we have it."
A majority of the match was a back and forth grind in the middle third as both teams dove, slid and hustled along with the sounds of Penn State's cheering section, the Sons of Jeffrey. As six yellow cards were issued throughout the match, the Nittany Lions and Red Flash's physicality created a defensive scrum on the pitch. So much so that both teams only had a combined six shots heading into the second half.
"I tried to stay on my toes on that one just cause I might fall asleep back there but our defensive shape was really really good in the first half," said goalkeeper Evan Finney. "We played a little bit more carefully. We were swinging the ball around a lot more."
Finney and the core on the backline continued to prove its strength throughout the entirety of the match, even well into the familiarity of two overtimes. With the leadership of Dani Marks, the dominance of Finney and the trust in freshman, Callum Pritchatt, the Nittany Lions defensive efforts were the unsung heroes on the pitch.
"Well they are tough aren't they?" said head coach Bob Warming on his defensive unit. "Those guys are just tough. Dani made so many big tackles tonight...We took Ryan Holland and put him in the back and moved Callum up a little bit because he has so much technical ability and savy and we didn't miss a beat when that happened...I was really proud of the backline tonight."
The defensive unit helped keep Saint Francis at bay with only eight shots and scoreless; Friday night was the Blue and White's first shutout of the season.
"I played with Dani for four years now and our chemistry is unbelievable," said Finney. "Having Callum back there too. He is a really really smart player. Bringing on Ryan Holland, he's probably the best header on the team, he can win any area ball and obviously Gally too. They are all just on the same page, they step together they drop together it is a really great group of guys to have in front of you I am really fortunate."
With their first win under their belt, the Nittany Lions hope to continue to capitalize on opportunities and draw from Friday night's momentum.
"Big Ten opens up on Tuesday against Ohio State so hopefully we keep that momentum we just had in the last 30 seconds and come out flying Tuesday against them," said Finney. As they look to continue their winning ways, the Penn State Nittany Lions are back on the road as they start their Big Ten campaign against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Sept. 12 at 7 p.m.
For more information on Nittany Lion men's soccer, log onto www.GoPSUsports.com and follow the team on the various social media platforms.