LINCOLN — Freshman forward Jaycie Johnson saw an opening, sprinted with the ball between defenders and drilled a kick into the back of the net to give Nebraska's surging soccer team a 3-2 double-overtime victory against Penn State on Sunday.
It was the shot heard 'round the Big Ten. The 21st-ranked Huskers beat the team that has won the past 15 conference titles — and moved within a victory of winning this year's crown. Nebraska, 9-1 in conference games, can clinch the championship with a win Friday at home against Indiana (6-4).
Even with a loss or tie Friday, Nebraska could claim the title with a Michigan loss or tie against Ohio State on Saturday. The Wolverines are 8-1-1.
Johnson was bubbling about her team after the match.
“Our team chemistry is so good,” she said. “They (teammates) make me want to be a better player.”
And the defense, she said, does not get enough credit.
“Our defense has been amazing every game,” Johnson said.
Goalkeeper Emma Stevens owns the Husker record in saves with 254. She had seven Sunday.
A defensive gem by Samantha Areman might have given Nebraska its overtime opportunity. The junior from Norris streaked from the left side to slide and push the ball away before it bounded into the goal midway in the second half.
Stevens set up the game-winning play in overtime by passing the ball to Johnson short of midfield, far from where Penn State keeper Britt Eckerstrom waited to defend.
“I looked up and saw a girl backpedaling,” Johnson said. Figuring that a defender moving backward is not as able to adjust side to side, Johnson cut right and split two defenders as she passed midfield. One defender and the keeper remained.
“When I got past the first two defenders, I knew I wasn't going to stop till I had the ball in the net,” Johnson said. She outraced the last defender to get an opening about 25 yards out and sent the ball into the lower-left corner.
The loss ensured that the Nittany Lions will not extend their streak of conference titles.
Though out of the title race, 16th-ranked Penn State is not chopped liver. A final four team a year ago, the Nittany Lions are 12-5-1 overall (NU is 14-3-1) and have the fourth-highest power rating in the NCAA.
Johnson's dramatic play ended a see-saw, intense battle.
Penn State started with intense pressure in the Husker end, getting four shots on goal to Nebraska's one in the scoreless first half. Then the Nittany Lions took a 1-0 lead when Whitney Church tipped a penalty shot into the net less than two minutes into the second period.
Nebraska's Jordan Jackson tied it with 15:33 to go, and Johnson gave the Huskers a 2-1 lead with 7:14 to go. Penn State had several opportunities down the stretch and finally tied it 2-2 on a goal by leading scorer Maya Hayes with 1:45 remaining.
The first 10-minute, sudden-death overtime went scoreless, setting up the dramatic finish by Johnson with three minutes gone in the second overtime.
Assistant Husker coach Peter Underwood said it was a great match.
“Penn State is a great team,” he said, “and it could have gone either way.”
The difference, Underwood said, was in the composure the Huskers showed after the first half.
“They believe in each other,” he said.
Johnson's drive to the final goal showed great confidence, Underwood said.
“To see her step it up and put it in the back of the net with that much confidence, you wouldn't know she has had a dry spell.”
The two goals Sunday make Johnson the team leader with nine, surpassing Jackson, whose goal Sunday gives her eight for the season. Jackson, a senior from Overland Park, Kan., continues to lead in points with 22, while Johnson, her freshman teammate, has 20.
“I'm so excited for her and the talent she has,” Jackson said.
As far as the Huskers' chance of winning a Big Ten title, Jackson said:
“I've never wanted anything any more in my life.”
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Video: Nebraska-Penn State soccer highlights: