You could call it an upset, or a wake-up call, but for No. 13 Towson, yesterday felt more like a punch in the stomach.
The Tigers got off to a slow start, and couldn't overcome confident and hungry Rutgers, losing by 10-9 in overtime in the season opener for both teams.
Rutgers, which won only two games last season, took a 9-4 lead and then held on despite giving up five unanswered goals. Junior attackman Delby Powless scored the game-winner 56 seconds into the extra period.
"I think maybe we stunned them a bit," Powless said. "A lot of people aren't giving us the respect we deserve. We've got a heck of a team and a heck of a coach. I think it's a big start to our season."
Though Towson outshot Rutgers 65-28 and grabbed significantly more ground balls (54-29) than the Scarlet Knights, the play of Rutgers freshman goalie Greg Havalchak was, in the opinion of both coaches, the decisive factor. Havalchak made 20 saves and frustrated the Tigers through the first three periods.
"He was just phenomenal today," Rutgers coach Jim Stagnitta said. "You can't coach what he was doing. We knew he was a heck of a player, but to come out and do that in your first varsity game against a team like Towson was phenomenal."
Havalchak's teammates certainly helped put him at ease with an offensive jailbreak through the first three periods. Each time Towson would slide an extra defender to try to double-team the ball, Rutgers responded by throwing a skip pass over the top of the Tigers' defense. The strategy produced plenty of open shots and plenty of goals. Matthew Apel had four assists and a goal for Rutgers, and Ken Springer and Powless each scored three times.
"We just did not come to play today," Towson coach Tony Seaman said. "I'm disappointed with my team. The first 45 minutes, we just weren't there."
Towson's defense had trouble in transition, as well. Scarlet Knights sophomore Leif Blomquist twice went the length of the field virtually untouched before finding a teammate open in front of net for a goal.
Things changed, however, in the closing seconds of the third period as Towson's offense finally came to life. Hunter Lochte scored with 53 seconds left to make it 9-5, and then Ryan Obloj added another goal with six seconds remaining on a nifty behind-the-head flip to pull Towson to within three.
Obloj, the Tigers' top returning scorer, wasn't done. After Alex Fountain scored to make it 9-7, Obloj scored twice to tie the game at 9. It looked as if Towson might complete the comeback and escape with a victory in the closing minutes, but two open shots by the Tigers hit the post.
In overtime, Rutgers won the faceoff and Springer fed Powless, who beat Towson goalie Reed Sothoron low for the game-winner.
"Where our program is, and where we've been, we needed something like this," Stagnitta said. "We needed some positive reinforcement. It's an important victory for us."
Said Seaman: "The last 15 minutes, I thought we picked it up and played a little bit better. But we deserved to lose and Rutgers deserved to win. Hopefully, this is a wake-up call. It had better be."
Rutgers 3 3 3 0 1 - 10
Towson 1 2 3 3 0 - 9
Goals: R-Springer 3, Powless 3, Apel, Duca, Britts, Rubeling; T-Obloj 3, Lochte 3, Fountain 2, Myers. Assists: R-Apel 4, Bloomquist 3, Springer, Warner, White; T-Obloj 2, Chane, Fountain, Lochte. Saves: R-Havalchak 20; T-Sothoron 7. A: 250.