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Men’s Soccer: Rutgers eliminates ND from tournament

Greg Arbogast | Monday, October 30, 2006

Two late goals by Rutgers forward Adam Sternberger were enough to send No. 8 Notre Dame home while the Scarlet Knights advanced to the semi-finals of the Big East tournament by the score of 2-1 Saturday evening at Yurcak field.

The loss drops the Irish’s record to 13-5-2 on the season, but Notre Dame’s season resume all but ensures them a spot in next month’s NCAA Tournament. The Irish will learn their first round destination and opponent on Nov. 6.

Saturday’s game started well for Notre Dame as sophomore midfielder Cory Rellas gave the Irish the lead in the 35th minute. Rellas collected the ball outside the Rutgers the penalty box, turned and – despite howling winds in his face – rocketed a shot into the goal from 25 yards out to tally his second goal of the season.

Although it didn’t affect Rellas’ shot, the wind would turn out to be a big factor all evening for both teams.

It was a difficult night to play, Irish coach Bobby Clark said.

“We played superbly with the wind in our face in the first half, but we didn’t really capitalize with the wind at our backs in the second half,” he said.

Notre Dame outshot Rutgers 9-4 in the first half and would take their one goal lead into the locker room at halftime.

But the Irish weren’t able to hold that lead.

The Scarlet Knights found their equalizer in the 80th minute on the first of Sternberger’s two goals. Rutgers’ midfielder Kyle Grato sent a free kick through the Irish wall, and although Notre Dame keeper Chris Cahill made the save, Sternberger was there to put the rebound into the net.

Twenty-six minutes and almost two overtimes later, Sternberger scored again to book the Scarlet Knights ticket to the semi-finals. Another dead ball proved to be the Irish’s undoing as Sternberger got onto the end of a Zach Simi corner kick firing home at the back post.

Although Notre Dame held a slim 13-12 advantage in shots on the evening, the Scarlet Knights out-shot the Irish 8-4 in the second half and overtime periods. Notre Dame didn’t register a shot in either of the overtime periods.

“We played very well in the first half, but we felt we should have been able to put the game away in the second half,” Clark said. “We played well without generating a lot of chances in the overtimes. It wasn’t like they were handling us in the overtime periods.”

Saturday evening was the second time in the last four games that the Irish were unable to hold an early one-goal lead. Notre Dame was also ahead of No. 4 West Virginia 1-0 at halftime on Oct. 18, but the Mountaineers scored two-second half goals to seal the victory.

The Irish will return home with nearly two weeks to prepare for the first round of the NCAA tournament which begins on Friday, Nov. 10. Clark sees this break as an advantage for his team.

“[Losing to Rutgers] might prove to be a blessing in disguise,” Clark said. “We’ve played a game every 3.3 days since Aug. 17, and that’s a lot of games. I think the break will give us an opportunity to recharge our batteries, and hopefully the boys will take advantage of that.”