NCAA Quarterfinals: Kirst, Defense Helps Rutgers Subdue Penn For First Championship Weekend Appearance

(Photo Courtesy of Rutgers Athletics)

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are heading to Championship Weekend for the first time in program history. Rutgers topped the Penn Quakers 11-9 on Saturday afternoon in Hempstead, N.Y., to make Hartford, Conn., their next stop in 2022.

Coming into the day, Rutgers was 0-7 all-time in quarterfinals meetings. That record included a one-goal loss to North Carolina on the same field in the same round last season.

In the end, it was the Scarlet Knights’ high-flying, transition offense that pushed them over the edge, aiding in a 5-1 run to close out the contest and secure the win. But it was the Rutgers defense and goalie Colin Kirst in particular that made all the difference.

After stopping 17 shots a week ago in the Scarlet Knights’ first-round win over Harvard, the New Jersey native stepped up once more against an Ivy League offense with 18 saves against the Quakers. Eight of those saves came in the fourth quarter alone. That included two late-game stops that helped to hinder any comeback Penn might have had left in them.

Through the first 15 minutes of play, the Quakers were held scoreless as Rutgers took a 2-0 lead into the second quarter. Through that opening frame, Penn got off 10 shots, of which four were saved by Kirst. Late in the game, in the midst of what would become a four-goal Penn run, the Scarlet Knights’ found themselves on defense for nearly five minutes straight.

In the 86 degree heat with the sun blistering down on the turf at Shuart Stadium, the Scarlet Knights let in two Quaker goals from Chris Canet and Dylan Gergar within 97 seconds of each other, giving Penn their first lead of the game. And while Jamie Zusi (13-for-20) would win the draw once again, Rutgers held the seemingly energized Quaker offense for two minutes straight.

Sam Handley, Dylan Gergar, and Gabe Furey all got off shots for the Quakers during that possession. The latter two were saved by Kirst, and it is off that final stop in which the Scarlet Knights’ game-winning run was born.

In transition, Mitch Bartolo found Shane Knobloch for the score. Less than a minute later, following a Jonathan Dugenio faceoff win, Ross Scott got the ball behind the cage, dodged up field and found Bartolo for one of his own to make it a tie game, 8-8.

Rutgers would score three more times before the buzzer sounded. Each of those goals came off defensive stops as Cole Daninger found Dante Kulas to capitalize off the transition sequence following a Kirst save. Just minutes later, following another Kirst stop, Knobloch put home his third of the day to net a hat trick.

However, it would be Bryant Boswell who put in the dagger with 1:04 remaining. The LSM forced the Dylan Gergar turnover, grabbed the ground ball, and went coast to coast to ice the game and help secure the victory for the Scarlet Knights.

Penn got two more possessions in the final minute of play, but a lone Dylan Gergar goal was all the success the Quakers would find. It marked the fourth score for Gergar on the day as he led the Penn offense, which was without a Sam Handley goal as the Rutgers defense did as good of a job as anyone at keeping him from getting what he wanted as a dodger and scorer. The towering midfield did have three assists, finding Gergar twice and Cam Rubin once.

Rutgers, while only trailing for about five-plus minutes all game, also saw their top offensive weapon held in check with BJ Farrare matched up on Ross Scott for the entirety of the contest. The Scarlet Knights’ leading point-getter was held to just one goal and one assist. Knobloch (3G) and Bartolo (2G/1A) were thus elevated to the forefront of the offense, but that was only part of the effort on that end.

Leaning on their NASCAR transition offense, the Scarlet Knights’ rope unit cashed in as Boswell, Zackary Franckowiak, and Ethan Rall each found the back of the net. Additionally Brennan Kamish had one assist while Cole Daninger dished out three. One of those Daninger feeds fell into the stick of freshman Dante Kulas, who cashed in at the 5:38 mark in the fourth to give Rutgers back the lead, 9-8.

In addition to Gergar’s five-point (4G/1A) outing and Zusi’s 65% mark at the faceoff dot, Patrick Burkinshaw made 14 saves to help lead the way for Penn.

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