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Indiana earned a dramatic 3-2 win over Rutgers on Sept. 17, 2023. Photos by Kallan Graybill. 

'We needed a game like this': Indiana begins Big Ten play with dramatic win over Rutgers

Paige Webber's late goal spoiled a second-half Scarlet Knights comeback

Big Ten play kicked off Sunday for Indiana women’s soccer and the expectations couldn’t have been higher. Coming off an undefeated non conference season, IU was looking to make a splash right into the pool that is the Big Ten conference. Their first foe, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, are a perennial powerhouse in the Big Ten.

Indiana escaped with a 3-2 victory. It was a game that truly was an affair of dominance for both teams in separate halves. The first half belonged to the home team Hoosiers, the second, the Knights. Thanks to a dramatic 85th-minute goal from Paige Webber, Indiana held off the Rutgers comeback and claimed the victory.

Indiana came out swinging with a goal from Anna Bennett in the first minute of the game.

Minutes later, IU scored on an acrobatic high arching boot of goal from Webber, which was assisted from a punt of Jamie Gerstenberg fresh off of her 100th save of her IU career. The goal was Webber’s 10th of the year. The first 10 minutes were a dream start for the Hoosiers.

After the Scarlet Knights started and stayed quiet for 38 minutes, Rutgers grabbed a goal from Gia Girman.

Rutgers started the second half pressuring IU with many chances in IU’s defensive zone. Then Rutgers got the equalizer on a horrible miscommunication between Gerstenberg and IU defender Zoe Tiger. A loose ball and a lack of quick decision-making left a bouncing ball free and gave a clear shot on net for the Scarlet Knights’ Gia Vicari.

This started to look like the Tennessee game from a couple of weeks ago, as Indiana’s 2-0 lead vanished. The road team salvages one rather than none. A golden opportunity was slipping through the hands of the Hoosiers.

And then in the 85th minute lightning struck again for Webber. The goal was stemmed by a turnover from the Scarlet Knights which went right into the possession of Piper Coffield, who played her first game back since going out with an injury. Coffield boomed a beautiful clearance from the Rutgers attacking third into the middle of the field which led Webber just onside to dribble around the RU keeper and finish. Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom’s emotions were clear as the ball rolled in the net and they were spirited.

“It was crazy because there were five minutes left,” Webber said. “The ball just kinda popped in there, I saw it and I saw the keeper come out.”

That was Webber’s team-leading 11th goal and it could not have been bigger.

When Rutgers’ final push for an equalizer stalled, the crowd at Bill Armstrong Stadium erupted. Van Bennekom was elated as can be as he walked past the head referee with the smirk of a winner.

“Big win,” the fifth-year head coach said after the game, pausing for a moment.

“I think we needed a game like this,” van Bennekom said.

Van Bennekom said that after the go-ahead goal, the next step was to not concede at all costs.

Let’s be honest, this is a game that the Hoosiers would be in a year ago. The steps being made by the roster and staff is truly remarkable. But the road doesn’t get any easier. IU travels to Champaign this Thursday to take on Illinois.

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