It took nearly four hours, but Northwestern lacrosse finally got the signature win it needed after defeating No. 5 Penn State 12-11 on Friday night. A costly Penn State turnover and a subsequent goal from Megan Kinna with under a minute remaining made the difference.
Northwestern (10-8) entered the game as slight underdogs to No. 5 Penn State (15-3), who had won the previous matchup in Evanston 14-13. But from the start, the two teams were evenly matched once again. Catie Ingrilli scored the first goal of the game after just 52 seconds and gave Northwestern its first lead of the game.
For the entire season, Northwestern has played rather inconsistently, giving up and dishing out huge runs seemingly at random. This game flipped the script completely. Northwestern would never let Penn State take a lead in this game, and they quickly established a 3-1 advantage after just four minutes of play.
Despite losing star defender Claire Quinn late in the first half for picking up two yellow cards, Northwestern played well defensively and produced goals on the other end. After Katie O’Donnell cut the lead back to one, Nesselbush immediately fired back to make it 4-2 with 21:49 remaining in the first half.
However, Penn State would not go softly into that good night. Taylor Bleistein tied the game at 5-5 eight minutes later, but Northwestern responded in spectacular fashion.
Esposito’s absurd no-look goal put Northwestern up 6-5 and reenergized her teammates. The rest of the half was a defensive struggle, but Northwestern entered halftime with a 7-6 lead thanks to a free position goal from Liza Elder.
Then, the rain got even worse. The game was postponed for over an hour as lightning and thunder forced a long delay. The field and the benches were still underwater when play resumed, but that didn’t stop the Wildcats.
Northwestern picked up a goal immediately when Catie Ingrilli scored in the opening minutes of the first half. However, the two goal advantage rapidly disappeared and the game was tied at 9-9 with 21 minutes left. It would stay deadlocked at nine apiece for eight minutes, however, as the conditions and good defenses kept both teams in check.
The scoring drought finally ended when Stroup and Esposito both scored to make it 11-9 in favor of the Wildcats. But the Nittany Lions mounted one final comeback, getting a goal from Maddie Gallagher to tie the game at 11-11 with 4:17 remaining. Although Shelby Fredericks won a key draw control, Northwestern failed to score on two ensuing possessions.
Then, Penn State made an inexplicable mistake whilst trying to clear the ball. Erica Spilker lofted a simple pass to her teammate, but freshman Megan Kinna read it and stole the ball, Larry Bird ‘87-style, scoring with under a minute remaining to make it 12-11. Northwestern successfully forced a Penn State turnover and ran out the clock to cap off a stunning victory. While this isn’t your traditional upset (Northwestern has won seven National Championships, after all), it was still a fantastic performance for Northwestern.
The Wildcats survived 21 turnovers, a rain delay and the No. 5 team in the country. They will face Maryland for the Big Ten Championship on Sunday. You should be watching.