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Penn State men’s soccer shows defensive solidity, aggression against Michigan

Men's Soccer vs Providence, Stevenson (18) Throws a Ball in

Defense, Alex Stevenson (18) throws a ball in during the game against Providence at Jeffrey Field on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Providence defeated Penn State 3-2 during overtime.

Penn State took down its third consecutive opponent in Sunday’s win against Michigan, needing only to score twice to win 2-1 on Jeffrey Field.

This was the fourth match the blue and white have played against a Big ten team, and it has taken home the victory in every matchup.

When playing against a rival in Michigan, or any Big Ten team, the stakes are a little higher and the energy is a little more apparent for the Nittany Lions..

“I think Big Ten soccer, in general, is physical and teams are competing [to win],” said Cook. “We knew Michigan would be a little more direct than some of the opponents we faced recently, so we expected it”

The match definitely set the precedent for how future Big Ten matches will be played. Within the first half, Penn State had accumulated 11 fouls.

Both teams combined for a total of 26 fouls across 90 minutes including five yellow cards and one red card to Michigan’s senior forward Derick Broche.

As the match was coming to a close, and the whistles had been blown, tempers were still flaring as sophomore defender Femi Awodesu had to be restrained by his fellow teammates from an altercation with the opposing team.

“There was some frustration after the game, but I don't think it necessarily went too far,” coach Jeff Cook said. “I think that's a big thing of handling those situations, being composed in the moment and not getting distracted by things you really don't have any control over.”

The physical nature of the game was felt on all sides of the ball whether it was Michigan fouling an attacking player or the Nittany Lions laying in hard tackles from in its own half.

No one was safe from the physical environment of Sunday’s contest.

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“I think it's really competitive, but it's also a sign of respect between the two programs because they know that if they don't give their all that we're going to turn them over,” sophomore center midfielder Seth Kuhn said. “We just do our best to stay composed and focus on the game.”

The backline for Penn State managed to not only hold down its side of the field through aggressive pressing, but it has been consistently locking up opposing teams in recent games.

Penn State prior to today was on a two-game win streak with both of those games being shut-out victories.

The defense led by Kuhn, junior defender Alex Stevenson and sixth-year redshirt senior defender Hackenberg have acted as a brick wall in the final third.

Conceding one goal in three games was exactly what the blue and white needed to propel itself through its tough upcoming schedule.

Barring a penalty goal for Michigan in the 58th minute, Penn State and junior goalkeeper Kris Shakes have kept its last three opponents from scoring in open play.

“Shakes has been great. He’s had a little bit of an up and down year, but these past three games have been brilliant,” Kuhn said. “ [I] can't really ask much more from him.”

Shakes has started every game this season except for two, and he is one of the key leaders along with Kuhn on the defensive end.

Despite conceding a goal to the maize and blue, Shakes saved four shots on the day out of the five that he saw, and the only one that he wasn’t able to save was off of a penalty kick which Kuhn described as a “toss of a coin whether you save [it] or not.”

Toward the latter part of the match as Michigan searched for a winner, a goal-scoring opportunity arose for the Wolverines, and a shot that would have made it to the back of the net was saved by Hackenberg.

Flying in, Hackenberg jumped through the air to clear the ball that was sure to find its way past a helpless Shakes.

“Those are the kind of plays that ultimately get us trophies,” Kuhn said. “We're chasing a championship here, so Hackenberg putting [the ball] off the line to keep it 2-1 are plays that define those close margins.”

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