Starting strong has never been the issue for the Quakers. Racing out to a 4-2 lead early in the first period was a testament to that. Finishing strong, though, has been another story.
Two weeks ago, Penn (1-2) struggled against Maryland in the second half, as the Terrapins went on an 8-0 run to finish the game despite Penn leading 12-9 at halftime. On Saturday, Penn's opponent just needed a one-goal run. And in a game characterized by hyper-efficient offense from both teams, an errant pass from sophomore goalie Patrick Burkinshaw was enough to give Penn State (4-1) a narrow 18-17 win.
The loss to Penn State drops the Red and Blue to 13-26 against the Nittany Lions all-time. The Quakers' struggles against Penn State are well-documented — they've only beaten Penn State once in the last 42 years.
"Give Penn State credit, they played a [fantastic] game and definitely shot the ball more efficiently than we did," coach Mike Murphy said. "Traynor, O'Keefe, Kelly — you've gotta give those guys credit, they played amazingly."
Penn State controlled the first minutes of the game, winning the first two faceoffs. The Nittany Lions were able to find holes in Penn's defense, firing two close shots past sophomore goalie Patrick Burkinshaw to take a 2-0 lead just 71 seconds in.
"We come into each period with a lot of energy, which is encouraging," Murphy said.
The Quakers wouldn't be deterred; a faceoff violation gave Penn its first possession of the game, and the Red and Blue's high-powered offense found its groove. Sophomore attackman Dylan Gergar ripped a turnaround shot towards the top right corner to put Penn on the board. The Quakers tacked on three more goals to take a 4-2 lead with 7:04 left in the first quarter.
The Nittany Lions started to force Penn turnovers late in the first as Penn State rode the Quakers effectively. Junior attackman Cole Willard ended Penn's scoring run, and junior midfielder Jack Kelly evened the score at four on a no-look trick shot. The Nittany Lions scored three more unanswered to take a 7-4 lead midway through the second period.
Gergar ended Penn State's momentum with 8:08 left in the half, firing an unassisted goal past senior goalie Colby Kneese. Four minutes later, senior Adam Goldner — who was quiet on the afternoon — pulled Penn within one on a 100 mph rocket from 15 feet out. The goal was No. 100 of Goldner's career. Ament tallied a goal with 2:24 left in the half to send Penn State into the locker room with a 8-6 lead.
The teams traded goals for most of the third period. Then, with 5:09 left in the third, junior attackman Sean Lulley threw a perfectly-placed pass to junior attackman Jack Schultz, who finished strong to bring Penn back within one. This sparked a 3-0 Penn run — highlighted by senior defenseman Kyle Thornton taking the ball the length of the field for a goal — that gave them their first lead since the first period.
"I thought we played with a lot more physicality in the second half, which helped us stay in the game," Murphy said. "And it's a big plus when you're winning 70% of face-offs."
Traynor snuck one past Burkinshaw to tie the game, 10-10, at 1:08 in the third period. With seven seconds left in the third, Lulley grabbed a rebound, and instead of dishing a cheeky pass, he finished strong to put Penn back up by one heading into the fourth.
In the final period of regulation, Penn State kept Penn at arms' length for most of the period; every time the Quakers evened the score, the Nittany Lions answered.
Things got interesting in these final two minutes when Traynor drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Penn a man-up opportunity. Schultz netted a short goal — his third of the game — with just 1:00 remaining. Face-off man Kyle Gallagher won the ensuing face-off, and Gerger netted a game-tying goal with just 16 seconds left as the Franklin Field crowd went nuts.
In the extra period, Penn State picked up the first possession, and it looked like the Quakers had all the momentum after Burkinshaw made a big save. In the end, O'Keefe had the last word, firing a walk-off goal past Burkinshaw.
"[Burkinshaw] was trying to make a lead pass to give us an opportunity on offense," Murphy said. "It's really a game of inches."
The Red and Blue will look to get back on track this weekend. They host Villanova next Friday before making a short trip to St. Joseph's on Sunday. They'll hope to have junior midfielder Mitch Bartolo and sophomore attackman Sam Handley back.
"[Handley] is probably day-to-day with a spleen injury, but we aren't super sure about his timetable because it's such a rare injury," Murphy said. "[Bartolo] will be back next weekend most likely."