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Men’s Soccer: Knights of the pitch

Greg Arbogast | Saturday, October 28, 2006

After an efficient 2-0 victory over DePaul Wednesday night in the first round of the Big East tournament, No. 8 Notre Dame travels to Piscataway, N.J. to take on Rutgers in the quarterfinals this Saturday.

With its conference record of 6-4-1 during the regular season, Rutgers earned the No. 2 seed in the Big East’s Red Division, which qualified the Scarlet Knights for a first round bye in the tournament.

Despite Notre Dame’s superior conference record of 8-3-0, the Irish played a first round game because they finished third in the Big East’s Blue Division behind Connecticut and West Virginia. The top two teams from both the Red and Blue Divisions received byes.

It’s no secret as to which of the two divisions has been tougher this season. If the Scarlet Knights played in the Blue Division, they would have finished in sixth place out of eight teams.

But Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark knows that Rutgers is a formidable opponent.

“It’s difficult to judge teams unless you play them, but there’s no question they’re going to be a good team,” Clark said. “Everyone I’ve spoken to says they’re a contender to win the Big East.”

The two teams play contrasting styles – Notre Dame known for its offensive prowess and Rutgers respected for its stingy defense. The Irish, led by junior forward Joseph Lapira, who leads the nation in goals and points, have averaged 2.5 goals per game over their last 10 contests.

Rutgers, winner of eight of its last 10 games, has ridden a stingy defense that has allowed only .5 goals per contest over the 10-game stretch. The Scarlet Knights have not conceded two goals in a game since a 2-0 loss to Providence on Sept. 10.

“I reckon they’re overdue to lose some goals, and it’s up to us to find a way to do that,” Clark said. “I don’t think too many things will change. We’ll play our game regardless.”

Defensively, the Irish will have to contain Rutgers playmaking junior midfielder Chris Moore, who leads the Scarlet Knights in both assists (five) and points (nine).

If Notre Dame is able to get past Rutgers, a potential rematch looms with No. 4 West Virginia, the only team to beat the Irish in their last 11 games. The Mountaineers narrowly defeated Notre Dame 2-1 Oct. 18 in Morgantown.

Clark, who has repeatedly preached the mantra of taking it one game at a time this season, is not worried about his team looking ahead to the later rounds.

“We’ve been very good on not looking ahead this season,” Clark said. “One game at a time, that’s our motto. Right now, we’re very focused on Rutgers.”