By Thomas Pullano
The No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions came into College Park Saturday with the third best faceoff percentage in the country. As a team they were dominating the X, winning two out of every three faceoffs they took, and they were led by their talented freshman, Gerard Arceri, whose .675 faceoff win percentage was fourth best in Division 1.
Despite those gaudy numbers, the Terps won the faceoff battle today, and it wasn’t even close. Behind the solid play of Austin Heningsen, Jon Garino Jr. and the players on the wings, Maryland totally shut Arceri down and completely flipped the script on Penn State, winning 20 of the 30 faceoffs. That success at the X coupled with great offensive play from Maryland’s attacking trio and middies paved the way for a 15-11 Terps victory that handed Penn State its first loss of the season.
While Maryland Head Coach John Tillman praised his two faceoff guys for a game well played, there’s another guy on the team that hasn’t seen any playing time so far this season that Tillman said deserves a lot of credit for Heningsen’s and Garino’s success Saturday.
“A guy that’s under the radar that you didn’t see play today was Alex Giovinco,” said Tillman. “He’s a faceoff guy that was on the scout team all week, and he was awesome. He tried to do a lot of the moves that the Penn State guys do, and it really helped us get ready, so he’s kind of our unsung hero, but a guy that really did an awesome job.”
With Henningsen and Garino winning 13 of 18 faceoffs in the first half, the Terps were able to jump out to an early lead. Maryland’s first five goals came unassisted, as there were some incredible individual highlight reel efforts. Senior attack Matt Rambo had himself a hat trick before the first quarter was even halfway over. Dylan Maltz’s goal right before the end of the second quarter gave the Terps a 10-6 lead at halftime.
After the Terps added two more goals right out of the break to build their lead to six, the Nittany Lions went on a run of their own and tallied three goals in a row to cut the Terps’ lead in half to three. After Tillman called a timeout to settle his team down, the Terps were much more patient with the ball on offense and were able to score three straight goals over the next nine minutes to extend the lead right back to six.
Midfielder Connor Kelly played a huge role during that stretch. With Penn State packing its defense in a zone, the Terps quickly moved the ball around the perimeter. Noticing the Nittany Lions falling asleep on defense a little bit, Kelly cut from the top of the box to an open area in the middle of the zone. Rambo found him with a great pass, and Kelly buried it for the first goal during that sequence.
A few minutes later, Kelly delivered a bullet pass across the zone to a slightly open Tim Rotanz. Rotanz might have had an open look, but with the defense sliding over, he instead elected to make the extra pass to the wide-open Colin Heacock, who ripped it past the goalie Colby Kneese to give himself a hat trick.
Finally, just over a minute later, off a quick restart Kelly realized his defender wasn’t anywhere near him on the other side of the cage. Upon that recognition, Kelly darted toward the side of the crease, Heacock found him open, and Kelly immediately jammed it home on the doorstep.
The six-goal deficit was too much for Penn State to come back from, and Maryland got the victory on senior day in College Park. Tillman couldn’t have been happier for the 12 members of this senior class that have brought the Terps three final fours and two NCAA championship game appearances.
“We really want the families and these guys to really enjoy today and tomorrow,” said Tillman. “They deserve it. They’ve done so much for this program. Again I can’t put into words without getting emotional what they mean for this program, what they’ve done for all of us.”