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Rutgers falls to Lehigh in final non-conference game

 – Photo by David Ji

The Rutgers men's soccer was a game away from history.

Despite losing five of their first seven Big Ten games, the Scarlet Knights (7-6-3, 1-5-1) entered their game against Lehigh with the chance to be the first Rutgers soccer team to finish with an unbeaten non-conference record since 1983. 

But an inability to finish and an unlucky bounce against the run of play doomed the Knights, who fell 1-0 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Tuesday night. 

Rutgers started off the game with an aggressive gameplan, outshooting the Mountain Hawks (10-4-2) 11-2 in the first half. The Knights' first really good opportunity came in the 7th minute, when sophomore midfielder Pablo Ávila fired a curling shot from outside the 18. 

Lehigh keeper Will Smith had a good read on it, diving to make the stop.

Ávila would try to play facilitator in the 42nd minute, when he sent a cross into the box toward freshman midfielder Anthony O’Donnell. The freshman got his head on the end of it, but Smith leaped toward the left corner to make the stop.

Coming out of the break, Rutgers kept up its form. They opened up the second half with seven consecutive shots, and didn’t allow a single attempt from the Hawks. 

But the relentless Knights attack couldn’t get the job done, and Lehigh soon began to threaten. In the 65th minute, its own Jack Sarkos got away with a shot from just inside the 18-yard box, but freshman goalkeeper Oren Asher came up with the save.

Seven minutes later, the Hawks got the goal they needed. Off a corner kick, the ball bounced around the box and took a few deflections before finding the back of the net. It was ruled an own goal, and Rutgers found itself down a goal with 17 minutes to go.

By that point, the Knights' offense had run out of gas, failing to get off another shot for the remainder of the game. It was a disappointing loss for Rutgers, which once again found itself on the wrong end of the scoreline despite controlling the run of play. 

"Honestly, I thought our guys played really well from beginning to end,” said head coach Jim McElderry. “I'm really disappointed for them because I thought they earned something from this game, (and) for some reason can't put the ball in the goal.”

With the loss, the Knights now have just one game left on the regular-season slate: a senior day matchup with Penn State on Sunday afternoon. The No. 16 Nittany Lions (10-2-3, 5-1-1) are coming into this weekend’s matchup red-hot, having taken down Maryland in a 3-2 overtime victory on Tuesday night.

For updates on the Rutgers men's soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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