Fairfield closed out their non-conference schedule on Saturday, March 21 against the #20 Villanova Wildcats. Paced by a four-goal performance from TJ Neubauer ’16 and four-point outing from Tristan Sperry ’15, the Stags notched an impressive victory by a score of 11-4.
Villanova came out firing in the first period, owning possession in Fairfield’s half. The Wildcats’ speed had the Stag defense on their toes, and Villanova would strike first at the 11:04 mark. Fairfield’s defense and goalkeeping held off the charge, but would allow another goal with 8:43 to play in the first period. Junior Charlie Schnider put the Stags on the board first, with an excellent spin move and overhead shot to the near post at the 6:20 mark to make it a 2-1 game. Senior Drew Federico netted his fourth goal of the season at 2:20 to knot the game at 2-2. Both sides went into the second period tied.
Fairfield turned up the pressure and found their stride in the second period, scoring five unanswered goals. Sperry gave the Stags their first lead of the game with an unassisted goal of his own at the 13:22 mark. Sophomore Jake Knostman made it a 4-2 game on an extra-man opportunity at 11:05. Although Villanova’s defense kept the Stags’ offensive weapons at bay for extended periods, Fairfield was consistently able to dispossess the Wildcats and keep the Villanova defense on their back foot. Neubauer would rip a shot from the center into the top left corner to push the Stags lead to 5-2 with 6:30 to play. Fairfield entered halftime with this lead.
Villanova held the advantage in shots (17-14), faceoffs (6-3), and turnovers (5-7), but Fairfield’s possession play and scoring run through the second period proved to be the difference maker. Sophomore Tyler Behring, making his second start of the season in place of injured first-choice Brad Nordstrom ‘18, also had an impressive first half, tallying nine saves to stifle to the Wildcat attack.
“When Brad (Nordstorm) went down, I knew it was my time to step up and help my team out,” Behring said. “I felt good all week, and just came out and performed my best.”
The Stags showed no signs of slowing down in the second half, putting up another three unanswered goals. Sperry found the back of the net from a near-impossible angle, firing home from almost parallel on the left side to put Fairfield up 6-2 at the 13:37 mark. Senior Colin McLinden finally got in the action at 8:35, spinning past two defensemen and putting home another goal to push the Stag lead to 7-2. Neubauer made it 8-2 with another score to his name at 2:27, taking the Stags comfortably into the last period of play.
The Wildcats finally had something to show on their offensive half, notching their first goal since the 8:43 mark of the first period to make it an 8-3 game with 13:00 to go. Fairfield’s offense became much more prudent, withholding possession and drastically slowing their game down in Villanova’s half in an attempt to run the clock as much as possible. It finally paid off, with Neubauer spinning off his marker and firing home another overhead shot to push the Stags’ lead to 9-3 with 6:54 to play. The Wildcats answered back seconds later with a goal at 6:25 to make it 9-4, but that was the last they would see of the scoreboard. Fairfield slowed the game down and ran the clock out, putting up two more goals in the process courtesy of Neubauer and Joe Rodrigues ’18. The Stags rode out the final minutes to an 11-4 win.
“I’m proud of the fact that in some of our losses, when we got to the fourth quarter, we had that inability to finish,” said head coach Andy Copelan. “And in today’s game, we finished.”
Villanova heavily outshot Fairfield 40-28 and cleared on all 13 opportunities, but stout defense and an impressive 16-save performance from Behring would largely keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard.
“This was our team taking a step in the right direction,” Copelan said. “We just have to keep persevering and keep getting better every opportunity that we have. With conference play right around the corner, we took a step forward today.”
Fairfield improves to 5-4 and opens Colonial Athletic Association play with a visit to Philadelphia and defending conference champions Drexel University on Saturday, March 28. The Stags then head north to take on University of Massachusetts Amherst on Saturday, April 4 before returning to Rafferty to end the season on a three-game home stand, beginning with a matchup against Towson University on Saturday, April 11 at 2 p.m.