With No. 15 Penn State (2-0-0) starting a five game stretch of facing top 20 opponents against No. 9 Denver (1-1), the Lions were focused on testing their young team against some of the best in the country.
With the main concern being the team’s growth facing off against a top 10 opponent on the big stage, Penn State held off a late Denver comeback in a 15-12 win in Jacksonville, Fla., on Sunday.
“I think it’s going to be a valuable experience for our guys,” head coach Jeff Tambroni said Tuesday. “If we make it into that elusive playoff structure where 16 teams are invited to play after the regular season, the stage could overwhelm you. We as a coaching staff wanted to put our guys in a couple of big situations, this being one of them.”
The Lions came out hot out of the gate, outshooting the Pioneers 13-3 in the first period. Denver converted on all three of their chances to prevent the game from getting away early. Shane Sturgis scored with four seconds left in the frame to give the Lions a 5-3 lead after one period.
With the addition of the 30-second shot clock being shown as the teams combined for 70 shots, Tambroni said the team prepared throughout the week for the high-tempo game.
“We just try to play at a faster pace,” Tambroni said via telephone Sunday. “We just try to make sure that our guys are keeping up with the pace from whistle to whistle, constantly communicating the importance of being prepared. You got to be a well conditioned team.”
The teams traded goals in the second period and Penn State went into the half with a two-goal lead.
Penn State started to pull away in the third period as the Lions came out of the half on fire. Sturgis completed his hat trick just 30 seconds into the third period and scored his fourth goal three minutes later. The Lions scored seven times in the third period to open the lead up to six.
Freshman TJ Sanders scored twice in the third to bring his goal tally on the season up to seven.
“I don’t feel like a freshman anymore,” Sanders said to GoPSUSports.com. “It’s been a great transition and it was fun to play here in Jacksonville.”
With Penn State up 14-8 entering the fourth, Denver started their comeback. Jeremy Noble scored 2:30 into the fourth period to trim the lead to five. After Penn State’s Kyle Zittel scored to bring the lead back to six, Denver scored the next three goals in quick succession, netting three times in a four minute span. With 5:31 left, the Lions’ defense kept Denver off the board the rest of the way to hold on for the 15-12 win.
The Lions will face No. 3 Notre Dame next Sunday in the home opener at the Penn State Lacrosse Field.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to make the incremental improvements that we have throughout the fall and continue to be challenging opponents throughout the spring,” Tambroni said.