Ella Masar scored twice, including the game-winner, to push #15 Illinois past #9 Penn State, 3-2
Oct. 1, 2006
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Junior forward Ella Masar scored twice in 25 minutes to finish off an improbable comeback that capped a perfect Illini sports weekend as the No. 15 Illinois soccer team downed No. 9 Penn State 3-2 in front of a school-record 2,667 fans at Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium. The Illini rebounded from a 2-0 halftime deficit to defeat PSU for just the second time in school history and the first in the regular season.
"I told them at halftime that we didn't play a tough non-conference schedule to come out and be afraid of a good team," Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said. "It means a lot for this program. It's another step for us in terms of being a power in the Big Ten and competing on the national level."
The win improves Illinois' record to 7-4-0 overall, 3-0-0 in the Big Ten. While a great deal of the conference schedule remains, Illinois controls its own destiny after defeating the Nittany Lions, who have won eight straight Big Ten regular season championships.
The Illini opened the match with four shots in the first 16 minutes, but Penn State weathered the early flurry and put in a goal at 17:49 to quiet the rowdy Orange and Blue crowd. Aubrey Aden-Buie netted her seventh of the season off a feed from Allie Long, then freshman Katie Schoepfer put in her fifth of the season less than three minutes later. PSU took the 2-0 lead into halftime despite being out-shot 8-5 at the break.
"We had to be more aggressive defensively," Rayfield said. "We had to believe that if we stepped to win balls and put them under pressure, that we would find opportunities to win those balls. In the first half, we were sort of playing back and letting them make a mistake, and a good team like Penn State isn't going to make a lot of mistakes."
Illinois did turn up that pressure in the second half, especially in the midfield, and that led to the three-goal second period. Freshman Chichi Nweke got the Illini on the board in the 58th minute when she took a through-ball from Jessica Bayne on the left side of the six-yard box and put it in the upper corner to the near side over PSU keeper Alyssa Naeher's outstretched arms.
"This game really was a game of the midfield - we lost it in the first half and were down 2-0, but we won it in the second half," Rayfield said. "And it was really the whole midfield. Marti (Desjarlais) came in off the bench and did a great job," Rayfield said. "Jackie (Santacaterina) played 90 minutes, was great in the air and kept the ball on our end. Kristy (Weeks) had some great defensive stops, too."
Then Ella Masar decided to put on a show for the hometown crowd. The Urbana, Ill., native took a cross-field pass from Bayne 35 yards from the goal and dribbled past two Nittany Lions on her way to the goal where she went low, far-post on Naeher from nine yards out on the left side to tie the match 2-2 at 59:47. All of a sudden, a confident Penn State team had been shaken and the school-record crowd had sparked the Illini.
"The run that (Masar) made to get the second goal was tremendous, but there were three or four players moving off the ball that created the channels for her to that run in," Rayfield said. "That's the way our offense is designed. She really showed in the second half that she believed and she made her teammates believe they were going to win this game."
A little over 24 minutes later, Masar took another pass from Bayne, this time on the right flank. She took it just inside the 18-yard box where she got off a rocket that went through Naeher's hands and across the goal line for the eventual game-winner at 83:51. PSU managed to get the ball inside the 18-yard box a few times on late attacks, but never put a shot on frame as Illinois held off the Nittany Lions.
"The crowd really gave us energy, especially in the second half," Rayfield said. "After we scored that first goal we could really hear those 2,600-plus fans. It really added energy to a team that was searching for it."
The win keeps the Illini atop the Big Ten standings along with 4-0-0 Indiana and finishes a weekend in which Illinois women's soccer, volleyball and football all went undefeated and untied for the first time since Sept. 2-4, 2005.
Up Next: Illinois returns to the home field next weekend when it hosts a struggling Minnesota squad that has opened Big Ten play 0-4 Friday at 7 p.m. Ohio State comes to town Sunday at 1 p.m. with the Buckeyes holding a ¬1-3 conference record.