Once again, WHEW, they win it by the skin of their teeth. This time it was Penn State's defense that earns the hero role.
The Game PSU 10 Army 9
Army started out strong going up 2-0 in the first, but then the Penn State defense, led by their goalie Jake Fracion, shut down Army's offense. This was enough to let the offense do some work, and they responded. From the middle of the first, until the middle of the third, Penn State's offense was patient, worked hard, and made smart plays. This led to an 8-3 lead in the middle of the third.
After that, however, Army's defense tightened up, including some amazing point-blank saves by Army's goalie---man that dude can play! Even on the goals, he was never out of position, just late. That's pretty rare to see. He seems to always make the right move. The guy is a phenom, and he almost did enough to get Army a win. Without him, Penn State likely wins by 5 goals or more. Alas ...
From the late third and into the fourth, Penn State's offense got visibly frustrated and started making some head scratcher passes and shots, which resulted in turnovers and Army getting chances in transition. To make matters worse, Army's FOGO completely owned the second half, winning I think every single face off.
As a result, Tambroni called a time out and got the offense to settle down and realize that if they just didn't have any bad turnovers, the defense could win it for them, and he was right. The offense moved into a slow possession game style, preventing the Army offense from getting fast break or transition goals.
Meanwhile, the defense incorporated a mix of man-to-man and zone to confuse the Army offense, leading to them making some poor decisions and turnovers. Individual play on defense was really good across the board in this game. Nobody got burned, and slides were mostly effective. Just a really good defensive effort.
With about thirty seconds left in the game, Penn State seemed to have it in hand, but their SSDM fanned on a ground ball and a cross check in the resulting scrum led to army getting a 1-minute unreleasable penalty. This meant that if Army scored, they would have carried the 1-man advantage into overtime. Penn State's defense had to make one last stand.
The did it! Even without Posey, their top close D man who left with an injury in the third, the defense looked as good or better than it did all season. Now they will go to championship weekend for only the second time in their long history (first time was with Ament and O'Keefe in 2019).
The reward for winning two edge-of-the-seat games in a row is having to face Duke, the #1 seed, in the semi-final. One positive is the game will be in Philadelphia. So all you PA people need to go out and support them.
Duke had to come back to beat Delaware in their opening game, and they looked vulnerable. This week, however, they absolutely shut down a really good Michigan offense and their stud midfielder, Brennan O'Neill (who is like 7 feet tall and breaths fire) scored 6.
Penn State is going to have to play well defensively, smart offensively, and win the ground ball game. Good news is that Duke's goalie is not as good as Army's, bad news is that nearly every single other player at every position is better.
Duke has become a verifiable perennial power house team. Penn State will have to play their best game all year to win that one.
NOTE: Even with all the parity we saw this year, championship weekend will be dominated by the ACC, with the B1G getting some representation. Seems this is how it turns out every year. Let's go Penn State!