Illini Upset Penn State 1-0 to Advance to BTT Title Game
Nov. 2, 2012
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - The Fighting Illini's road to a second consecutive Big Ten Tournament Championship and third overall continued this morning as Illinois created yet another historic moment in program history. The Orange and Blue upset #1 seed and #3 Nationally ranked Penn State 1-0 in today's semi-final matchup. It was the program's first ever win against a top-3 school. Freshman Nicole Breece recorded the game-winning goal with junior Megan Pawloski credited with the assist.
"I think this is a more composed team, a more confident team, a team that doesn't get rattled when something bad happens," said Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield. "We've come from behind and faced adversity. The seasoning of this team made the difference in today's game."
Both the Illini and Nittany Lions came out strong in this matchup between two great programs who have seen much success in the Big Ten Tournament. Illinois goalkeeper Steph Panozzo immediately put her stamp on the game, elevating her play and that of the defense in front of her.
Two minutes in, Penn State earned their first corner kick where Panozzo leaped above a scrum of players to snatch the ball out of the air. In the 13th-minute, standout Christine Nairn blasted a point blank shot off of a cross but Panozzo was positioned well for her first save. Two minutes later, Penn St. sent a through ball into the Illinois box ahead to a sprinting Maya Hayes, but Panozzo rushed out and slid, negating the attack in a three person collision. Just two minutes later once again, the Nittany Lions went on a 2v1 breakaway. After passing around the lone Illini defender, Panozzo sprinted out and took the angle away from Hayes, forcing her to take the high shot over the net.
After the sturdy Illini defense calmed the storm of the Nittany Lions attack, the Orange and Blue settled in and began to produce goal scoring chances of their own. Connecting several passes together, Illinois sent several crosses into the box in the first half, nearly missing on connections with Niki Read and Nicole Breece.
Then, in the 40th-minute, the Illini got their difference maker and the eventual game-winner. Megan Pawloski performed her signature flip-throw in on the right side of the field in which the ball was launched deep inside the Penn State box. After the ball bounced two times and went to the far post, Nicole Breece ran on and placed the ball into the back of the net. The tally was Breece's third goal on the season, second game-winner, and is now second on the team in points with nine.
The Orange and Blue's toughness and urge to get back to the title game was on full display in the second half as all 10 field players were challenging every 50/50 ball. The Illini midfield and defense continued to hold their shape and if need be, throw their bodies in front of a Penn State shot to keep them off the board.
"We really wanted to continue to go at them," said Rayfield about her halftime message. "We said the thing that has gotten us to this point was our fight and we certainly wanted to continue to do that until the final whistle."
In addition, Illinois began to move the ball more and more into Penn State's half, creating chances to extend their lead. In the 61st-minute, Taylore Peterson crossed the ball into the middle of Penn State's box where Niki Read's header went just over the crossbar. Read almost found her goal again in the 75th-minute after she dribbled around two Nittany Lion defenders and released a shot from the top of the 18 yard box that skidded inches left of the post.
One minute later, Steph Panozzo made the save of the game. Penn State's Tani Costa settled the ball deep in the Illinois box on the left side. She took a touch to her right and blasted the shot to the far post. Panozzo instantly dove to her left in full extension and snatched the ball for the save.
The Nittany Lions threatened again with eight minutes left when they earned a corner kick and launched the ball to the middle of the box. Penn State gathered the ball and then produced several back to back shots, but the Illini were there every time, putting their bodies on the line to halt the shots.
The clock finally reached zero as the Illini earned a chance to defend their Big Ten Tournament Championship in the title game Sunday. The victory also marks the fifth time in school history the Orange and Blue have reached the final game in the conference tournament.
"Defensively and everyone across the board did an amazing job," said Rayfield on shutting out Penn State. "Nicole Denenberg did a great job in the midfield pressuring the ball. The best way to defend a talented goal scoring team is to not let them serve great balls and we certainly tried to do that today. It's a talented Penn State team that comes at you from a lot of angles so i thought it was a real collective group effort defensively for us today."
Panozzo and company handed Penn State their first shutout on the year as the Nittany Lions entered the tournament leading the nation in goals per game (3.16). Illinois moves to 10-7-3 overall and 15-9-4 all time in Big Ten Tournament play. Furthermore, the Illini are now 7-2-0 when scoring first and 8-2-2 when they have allowed one goal or less.
The Orange and Blue will square off with Ohio State for the rights to be called Big Ten Tournament Champions. Two seed Ohio State downed three seed Michigan in the second game today by a score of 2-1. The two squads met on Sept. 21 in Champaign, where the Illini notched a 1-0 victory over the Buckeyes. Kickoff for Sunday's game is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT and will air on the Big Ten Network.