Samantha Hauk endured the final 20 minutes of Thursday night’s game. No. 24 Penn State threw everything at the Nebraska in hopes of salvaging a point and avoiding an upset at Barbara Hibner Stadium.
A month ago the Huskers could have conceded. It wasn’t that long ago the young side suffered costly lapses and let in frustrating goals. But that’s not the kind of Nebraska team that took the field Thursday.
“At the beginning of the season it was a lot more tense,” Hauk said after the final whistle. “Now we’re just so relaxed with each other and game after game we’re all getting a little more comfortable with each other and it’s just making it so much more fun to play.”
Hauk and the Huskers took the best ranked Penn State had to offer and stood tall with a 4-2 win. That win in the regular-season home finale gives the Huskers 3 crucial points going into Sunday’s regular season closer at Wisconsin. A result in Wisconsin would bring the Huskers a little closer to their goal.
“We’re looking at getting home-field advantage for the Big Ten Tournament, I think that’s where we started,” Hauk said. “Obviously, the NCAAs is what we’re shooting for but we’ve got to look at what’s right ahead of us.”
The Huskers created their first chance in the first minute but couldn’t convert. Among seemingly endless pressure the Huskers forced the opening goal.
Penn State won possession on the wing and passed back to the midfield. Senior defender Jillian Jennings received the pass but her feet stuck into the turf as she turned and fell over. Nebraska sophomore Florence Belzile, closing on Jennings, continued her run to the loose ball with plenty of space. All it took was two touches and the forward fired the opening goal into the roof of the net just 2 minutes, 39 seconds into the game.
“I think throughout the season I’m getting more and more confident to take those shots out of the box and I think that’s helping me score those goals,” Belzile said.
The sophomore doubled her tally less than 5 minutes later when an attempted Penn State clearance found Belzile’s foot 12 feet off the right of the penalty spot. She fired to the opposite side of the net on her first touch and the ball avoided a mess of bodies on its way into the netting. Just 8 minutes into the game the upstart Huskers held a 2-0 lead over the No. 24 team in the country.
The Montreal native scored her first collegiate goal against Illinois a week ago before Thursday’s breakout.
It would have been a feat to shutout Penn State. The Huskers knew that, despite their best defensive efforts, they needed to be prepared when the Nittany Lions scored.
When Penn State finally mustered an attack and senior Ally Schlegel slid to tap in a low cross from Penelope Hockling to cut the lead in half, the Huskers huddled at goal. A minute later, they were celebrating again.
Nebraska’s immediate attack forced a corner kick. Freshman Lauryn Anglim booted it into the box where an unmarked Sarah Weber waited. The Huskers’ top scorer was all alone at the far end of the box and slotted in her first goal of the game.
“I feel like we need to keep attacking, keep getting them uncomfortable to keep having those goals,” Belzile said.
Gwen Lane sent a ball past the keeper in the 34th minute to put the Huskers up by three goals into halftime. Penn State’s Schlegel scored again in the 54th minute but the Nittany Lions couldn’t get through the Husker defense again.
Following Thursday’s results around the league, Michigan State clinched the regular-season conference title with a 1-0 win over Ohio State. Iowa upset Northwestern to keep the Wildcats in second with 19 points. Rutgers lost to Michigan and Wisconsin tied Illinois.
So, going into the last day of the season, Michigan State is a lock for the No. 1 seed. Northwestern is still in the No. 2 seed at 19 points. Nebraska joins Ohio State and Rutgers in a tie for No. 3 with 17 points. Penn State, because of the loss to Nebraska, is now tied with Wisconsin for sixth at 16 points.
Northwestern plays at Ohio State and Rutgers plays at league champion Michigan State in the regular season’s final day. Because of season point tallies, Nebraska can clinch a home-field Big Ten quarterfinal game with a win at Wisconsin on Sunday.