The Panthers hadn’t scored in 280 minutes.
In Tuesday’s game against cross-city rivals Robert Morris, senior midfielder Patrick Dixon lined up Pitt’s 12th corner kick of the night. He approached and sent a ball toward the middle of the box. A barrage of Colonials and Panthers jostled for position. Freshman forward Tobias Marshall-Heyman peaked over the bundle of defenders and headed the Panthers 26th shot past Robert Morris goalkeeper Brenden Alfery for a nonconference win in the 106th minute.
The drought was over.
“It was quite hectic,” Marshall-Heyman said. “I didn’t think too much, I just headed it in and suddenly it was in the goal.”
The Robert Morris Colonials (4-4) fell to the Panthers 1-0 in their second straight loss in a double overtime game at Ambrose Urbanic Field.
Both teams were coming off disappointing losses heading into the match. Robert Morris lost a heartbreaker in two overtimes to Lehigh last weekend. The Panthers dropped their second straight conference game on the road in Boston College on Saturday night in a 2-0 shutout.
There were plenty of opportunities at the net for the Panthers in regulation, but they couldn’t capitalize. Alfery collected 11 saves on the night.
The Panthers continued their tremendous play against nonconference opponents, highlighted by formidable defense and aggressive goaltending. Through five nonconference games, the Panthers have outshot opponents 36-14.
Offense has been a focal point for head coach Joe Luxbacher and his team all season long. The emphasis has endured throughout the drought over the past few games.
“I thought we played well, we passed the ball and connected. I thought it was a good effort, we got a good win against a good team with a number of guys contributing,” Luxbacher said.
Pitt collected 26 total shot attempts on the night, 12 of which were on goal. Robert Morris recorded 10 shots, three of which were on goal.
Panthers dominated much of the first half offensively and maintained consistent possession and pressure throughout much of the half, creating ample scoring opportunities as a result. The first of which came off a corner kick in the 27th minute from Dixon to Marshall-Heyman, who was unable to score against Alfery.
Dixon launched nearly every one of Pitt’s 12 corner kicks throughout the game — a job usually reserved for junior Romeo Charron. Charron instead played center back due to the Panthers weakened back four, as senior defender Stephane Pierre and freshman defender Kyle Brathwaite are still sidelined with injuries.
“We didn’t want Romeo out there taking corners and having to sprint back 60 yards, so we had Patty take them from both sides, and he’s very good at it, he can serve a good ball,” Luxbacher said.
Referees called fouls early and often throughout the match. Officials handed Pitt senior defender Andrew Wright a yellow card in the 31st minute for a horse-collar tackle on Robert Morris sophomore forward Neco Brett, who recorded two of the Colonials’ five shots in the first half. Brett also earned a yellow card in the 39th minute for rifling a shot at Lynd after a whistle.
The second half saw more of the same action, a stifling match between both teams. Robert Morris’ sophomore defender Bennett Jull drew a red card in the 58th minute, and the Colonials had to play the remainder of the contest short-handed.
Dixon, Marshall-Heyman and freshman defender Curren Page all crashed the net on the ensuing free kick, but Alfery once again bailed out his porous defense.
Alfery stopped a shot from Pitt sophomore midfielder Jack Dickens in the 70th minute to preserve the shutout. Dicken’s shot strayed just wide.
Pitt continued its aggressive offensive presence into the extra minutes. Junior Kevin Murray earned a yellow card in the 96th minute for running into Alfery during the first overtime.
Robert Morris freshman Lucas Puntillo fired a shot off a free kick just wide of the right side of the cage, past a diving Lynd in the 98th minute.
Heading into the second overtime, the Panthers recorded 24 shots and earned 11 corner kicks. Robert Morris managed just nine shots and three corner kicks — a solid stalemate until Marshall-Heyman’s fateful header.
“We didn’t finish chances early,” Luxbacher said. “I thought their goalkeeper played really well.”
Defensively, the Panthers managed to shut out the Colonials with two of their premiere defenders sidelined with injuries. That meant Pitt’s defense had to collectively step up to shut down Robert Morris’ standout forward Brett, who already has seven goals on the year.
“[Brett] is a handful. We man-marked him with Andrew Wright, and Romeo [Cherron] was always covering Andrew and it worked. He’s a very good forward,” Luxbacher said.
Luxbacher is uncertain if Kyle Brathwaite will be available for Friday night’s match at Syracuse.
Despite the Panthers’ success versus non-conference opponents this season, they still remain winless in conference play since joining the ACC. Pitt will have another shot to record the historic win against the Orange (4-2-1, 0-1-1 ACC) at 7 p.m. Friday night.
“Part of it is confidence in the ACC. We tend to play with more confidence against non-conference teams, then you get into the ACC and all these teams are ranked, and we don’t play with as much confidence and we start to make mistakes,” Luxbacher said.
Senior goalkeeper and team captain Dan Lynd is having a remarkable season against non-conference opponents as well. Last night’s shutout was Lynd’s 13th of his career and fifth this season.
“This win and shutout was huge for us to regain our confidence. It’s going to be a bigger test against Syracuse, but I think we’re going to be ready,” Lynd said.