Penn State, ranked No. 10 in the country, came to UMBC Stadium yesterday with a four-game win streak and its eye on a spot in the NCAA playoffs.
"This -- so far -- is the best team we've had in many years," said Nittany Lions coach Glenn Thiel. "I think we have to win the rest of our games to get in the playoffs for the first time in our history."
Penn State won, 16-15, but the Nittany Lions trailed most of the day against upset-minded UMBC and needed a goal with 27 seconds left to break a 15-15 tie.
Mike Busza, a senior midfielder, scored that after taking a feed from sophomore attackman Greg Jackson, who led Penn State with four goals.
UMBC's Matt Shearer, a sophomore midfielder, was the game's high scorer with six goals.
"We knew Busza was their catalyst," said UMBC coach Don Zimmerman, whose team had a three-game win streak ended, "but you can't hold a player like him down all day."
Said Busza: "This was too close for comfort. It proves we can't take any team lightly. I think we took this team a little lightly. It showed in the first three quarters."
UMBC (4-4) jumped to a 3-0 lead playing a controlled style and isolating its shooters to get one-on-one opportunities.
Zimmerman's Retrievers led by four goals (10-6) as late as the opening minutes of the third period.
From there, Penn State, with a deeper squad (UMBC dressed only 23 players), began cutting into the lead.
Busza pulled his team to 14-13 on an unassisted score 23 seconds into the fourth period.
With 12:35 left in the game, Penn State intercepted a pass on a UMBC clear and passed to fast-breaking Rob Warren for the tying goal.
Penn State (7-1) took the lead for the first time with 11:08 left when freshman midfielder Todd Korte drove to his right and scored on a power move from 9 yards out.
Many of the 725 spectators may have thought UMBC was finished at that point, but the Retrievers came back. They tied it at 15 when Shearer scored unassisted on a high shot from 12 yards out directly in front of the goal.
In the final minute, UMBC had a 30-second extra-man opportunity but lost possession on a pass that went off a player's stick and out of bounds. It was then that Busza scored the game-winner.
"We had an opportunity to score in that last minute," said Zimmerman, "but our kid took his eye off the ball.
"You hate to lose a game in the last minute, but I'm proud of our guys. We've been working hard to be able to play 60 minutes. Today they gave us 60."
Inability to get faceoffs was a major weakness for UMBC. Penn State won in that category, 28-7.
L UMBC goalie Chris Brown again was outstanding with 20 saves.
Thiel, who is in his 18th year at Penn State, had only praise for the losers.
"UMBC had a great game plan," Thiel said, "and did a great job with it. They got the tempo they wanted. We didn't get any saves until the fourth quarter. We had two saves after three quarters."