No. 2 Penn State men’s soccer is moving on to the Big Ten Tournament Championship after beating No. 3 Michigan 4-1 in a tightly packed, semifinals contest at Jeffrey Field on Wednesday.
The Nittany Lions found themselves on the losing side of the Big Ten Tournament semifinals against the Wolverines in 2019, as they were defeated 1-0 in heartbreaking fashion, thanks to a Jack Callahan goal in the 61st minute.
But they were able to enact their revenge this time around as Peter Mangione’s first-half penalty kick goal proved to be the difference in a game that saw 24 total shots — 11 on goal — and five yellow cards.
Coming into this match, Penn State had squared off with Michigan 26 times in program history — six times in the conference tournament — and, with the victory, now improves to 12-11-4 (4-3 in the tournament) all time against the Wolverines.
For third-year coach Jeff Cook, it wasn’t necessarily about facing a program rival and dealing with that type of pressure, more so just focusing on themselves and what his team needed to do in order to win the game.
“I think today was really about advancing regardless of who it was,” Cook said. “We respect our opponents, and I think the world of coach (Chaka) Daley, his staff at Michigan, (they have) great players, Defensive Player of the Year, Midfielder of the Year. Today was about getting to the finals and I told the guys I actually think this is a difficult game psychologically because you’re so desperate to get to that next game, and I thought our guys handled that really well.”
For Nittany Lions’ midfielder Pierre Reedy, however, there may have been a bit of added motivation considering it’s been a long time since they’ve beaten the Wolverines.
“It’s huge, and it just shows we’re peaking at the right time,” Reedy said. “I told the guys in the tunnel before we played that I’ve been here for five years and we haven’t beat Michigan, so that’s gotta change tonight. And from the first minute, we started off hot and never let off the gas.”
Penn State got off to a bit of a sloppy start, and allowed Michigan an early scoring chance in which Nittany Lions goalkeeper Kris Shakes was forced to make a diving save on Wolverines midfielder Kevin Buca.
That’s when the Nittany Lions woke up and found themselves on the attack. After a pair of free kicks by both teams, Penn State was finally able to put one past Michigan goalkeeper Owen Finnerty in the 6th minute as junior forward Daniel Bloyou scored his third goal of the tournament, assisted by Alex Stevenson and Reedy.
Bloyou, a transfer from Old Dominion, has really made his mark on the Nittany Lions program this season — seven goals up to this point — and was awarded with All-Big Ten first team earlier in the week, along with teammates and redshirt senior captains Reedy and Brandon Hackenberg.
The Wolverines forced a few Nittany Lions turnovers and were able to generate a bit of pressure, securing three straight shots but none of them made their way past Shakes. At the 17 minute mark, Mangione was fouled inside the box and shot a wicked penalty kick to the top left corner that Finnerty had no chance of stopping.
Even though Michigan trailed 2-0 early on, it fought back and scored just 11 minutes later as Jackson Ragen scored low right on a corner kick assisted by Marc Ybarra and Austin Swiech. There were many bodies in front of the net, and Shakes didn’t have much of a chance to stop Ragen’s scoring attempt as the Wolverines found themselves only down one heading into the half.
Penn State replicated its clumsy first-half start to open the second, and almost allowed Michigan to tie the game but were able to block two consecutive Wolverines’ shots and stop two corner kicks.
But the defensive pressure came alive for the Nittany Lions, and they forced a Michigan turnover where Mangione was able to get the ball to Reedy. He blasted the ball low right, past Finnerty in the 62nd minute as Penn State took back its two goal lead.
The back-and-forth affair continued for much of the second half, however, Penn State was able to pull away and put the game out of reach in the 87th minute. Liam Butts found himself on a partial breakaway, got the ball to midfielder Seth Kuhn, who proceeded to get the ball back to him, and Butts capitalized by shooting low right and putting it past Finnerty, putting Penn State up 4-1.
Butts had a breakout freshman year, accumulating nine goals, but hasn’t found the back of the net since the Nittany Lions 3-0 victory over Wisconsin back in early November 2019. It had to feel great for Butts to finally celebrate a goal of his own with his teammates.
“First of all, he’s such an important character in our group and everyone believes in Liam Butts as a soccer player and goal scorer,” Cook said. “And, again, I think it’s good for him, it’s good for our team. And when teams are preparing for us, I think it’s difficult for an opponent just to focus on ‘OK, well, these two guys are the ones we have to stop,’ because I do think we have good goal scorers and good providers, creators in the group.”
Penn State will now await for the winner of No. 4 Maryland and No. 1 Indiana, as it will face the victor at 5 p.m. Saturday at Jeffrey Field in the Big Ten Championship game.