UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Eighth-ranked Penn State epitomized their slogan of "find a way" against No. 19 Illinois on Sunday, overcoming a quick response to their first goal of the match and beating the Fighting Illini 2-1.
"Our slogan all season long has been `find a way' and today was just that; we had to find a way," head coach Erica Walsh said. "The Tuesday, Friday, Sunday stretch was the toughest stretch of our season and to come out of that with three wins is massive."
The Nittany Lions' win against Illinois (9-3, 4-2 Big Ten), who entered Sunday's match tied with Penn State atop the conference standings, improved Penn State's record to 10-1 overall and maintained its perfect Big Ten record at 5-0.
From the start of the match, Penn State was intent on creating scoring opportunities. In the sixth minute, Kori Chapic dribbled the ball around an Illinois defender and sliced it to the goal, but keeper Claire Wheatley stretched out and made a toe kick save to keep the Lions off the board.
The Blue and White returned from the second half with renewed vigor and almost took the lead at the 49-minute mark. Salina Williford took an initial shot from the nearside post, on which Wheatley made a diving stop. Mallory Weber tried to bury the rebound but a Fighting Illini defender slid in front of the shot.
The back-and-forth battle between the conference's top two teams reached a head in the 62nd minute. Emily Hurd stripped an Illinois player from the ball and dished it to Frannie Crouse, who sliced it from 10 yards out to get her seventh goal of the season for the 1-0 lead.
But just 47 seconds later, the Fighting Illini knotted the score. Janelle Flaws, the top goal scorer in the Big Ten, left-footed a soaring shot over Britt Eckerstrom's head in the top right corner to tie the score at 1-1.
After the game-tying goal, Penn State continued to press, outshooting the opposition 3-1 in the ensuring 20 minutes.
But akin to the team's motto, the Nittany Lions found a way to break the tie with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation. Schafer back footed the ball just inside the eight yard box to Williford, who dribbled and separated from the defense. She then left footed a low shot in the nearside corner for the game-winning goal. The game winner was the third tally of Williford's career, all of which have been scored in the past four matches.
Penn State limited Illinois to just three shots on goal in the match and Britt Eckerstrom earned her 10th win of the year for a 10-1 record.