Michigan's defensive collapse in the second half proved detrimental in it's season-ending loss to Penn State. Lila Turner/Daily. Buy this photo.

As the last five seconds of the game wound down, senior forward Derick Broche stood inches away from the right side of the post with the ball in front of him. With no defender around him and a second left on the clock, Broche took a hail-mary shot to try to save the Wolverines’ season. The ball curved past the net before going out of bounds, bringing the players to their knees and their season to an end. 

The Michigan men’s soccer team (4-10-3 overall, 1-6-1 Big Ten) fell to Penn State (6-5-4, 3-2-3), 3-2, in its last game of the season Sunday afternoon, missing its opportunity to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. 

“We are devastated, the guys are devastated,” Michigan coach Chaka Daley said. “They gave everything to the last second, just wasn’t enough for today.” 

Following Tuesday’s loss against Notre Dame, the Wolverines entered Sunday’s game with the risk of losing their eighth-place standing in the Big Ten to Northwestern. A draw would secure their spot at the Big Ten Tournament, but a loss would drop Michigan from it.

The Wolverines opened the game with a determination to keep their season alive, creating early pressure on the Nittany Lions’ defense. Just three minutes into play, a header by freshman defender Nolan Miller from a corner kick by junior midfielder Bryce Blevins found the back of the net, giving Michigan a 1-0 lead.  

While the Wolverines continued to create offensive chances, it was their defensive efforts that kept them in control in the first half. The defense — led by sophomore defender Jason Bucknor as well as Miller — restricted Penn State to three shots with only one on goal.

Regardless of the early lead and clear defensive effort, there were also evident flaws.

“We weren’t necessarily on top of the game in the first half,” Daley said. “The score may have been in our favor, but we weren’t on top.” 

At the start of the second half, the surprising absence of Michigan’s starting freshman midfielders Nicholas Cassidy and Nicholas Kaloukian — the anchors of its attack — allowed the Nittany Lions to control most of the possessions, exposing the Wolverines’ defensive weaknesses. 

Two minutes into the half, Penn State midfielder Van Danielson rifled an uncontested shot from the 18-yard box. His shot went past the outstretched gloves of sophomore goalkeeper Hayden Evans and hit the back of the net, tying the game 1-1. 

The Nittany Lions continued to apply the pressure from there. A pass from Penn State defender Alex Stevenson found Danielson on the near post, allowing Danielson to slot it behind Evans, giving the Nittany Lions a 2-1 lead. 

“I don’t think it was anything they did,” Daley said. “I think we did it to ourselves a little bit.”

Michigan’s continuous defensive collapses allowed Penn State to find consistent open shots on goal, leaving the Wolverines in desperate need to convert on their offensive opportunities.  

At the 55th minute, a shot by Miller off a pass from Blevins ricocheted off the post and hit the back of the net. Even though the Nittany Lions dominated the second half, the game was once again tied at 2-2. 

The goal sparked the stagnant Michigan offense but its defensive woes continued. Back-to-back uncontested shots by Penn State forward Peter Mangione, followed by a shot on goal by midfielder Andrew Privett gave the Nittany Lions a 3-2 lead at the 75th minute. The hope of a tie proved short-lived.

Despite the return of Cassidy and Kaloukian off into the half, the Wolverines’ momentum was erased. Michigan generated seven shots, including four on goal, in the second half but never found the equalizer. 

“We had as many chances as they did,” Daley said. “They just happened to win more moments than we did.” 

The Wolverines attacked the Penn State defense until the last second of the game as Broche’s shot to the right corner of the net went past the post, leading to an abrupt end to Michigan’s season. 

As the Wolverines miss their first Big Ten Tournament appearance under Daley, it’s clear that Michigan needs to find its defensive identity in order to achieve more success next season. If it doesn’t, it might just be more of the same — more being the only Big Ten team not to make the conference tournament.