LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Fifth-year graduate student Christian Watts saved his best for last.

With 35 seconds remaining and the score locked at 11-all, the midfielder was already having a day to remember with a hat trick in his back pocket including a fourth-quarter goal to his scoring line.

As Watts ran to make a cut toward the net, fifth-year attackman George Rusnak alertly found him on cue as Watts fired into the back of the net and scored the game-winning goal that propelled Siena to a 12-11 victory against NJIT on Saturday afternoon at Hickey Field. 

The Highlanders (0-1) would have one more look at it to tie after Mark Cummins was called for an illegal body check in the final 10 seconds, but a wayward shot attempt went wide as time ran out and the Saints’ bench rushed in to celebrate with teammates as time expired. 

It marked the Saints’ first season-opening victory since the 2020 season and improved Siena’s record to 6-4 over their last 10 games played dating back to last season. Siena now holds a 3-0 all-time advantage against NJIT.

Watts’ five-point outing (four goals, one assist) tied a career-high in which he also accomplished against St. John’s last March 11 and versus Holy Cross last April 23.

Both Siena and NJIT came ready to play. The game’s ebb and flow rocked back and forth with eight ties, two lead changes with neither team capturing larger than a two-goal advantage. 

Trailing 9-7 with 4:00 left in the third quarter, Siena showed big-game chops by rallying back with four straight goals to re-take the lead at 11-9 with 9:49 left in the game. First, it was Watts scoring on a Hunter Pemric assist followed by an unassisted goal by Liam Hassett to knot it at nine apiece with 13:48 left. Rocco Barbero got a feed from Rusnak to increase the lead before Watts added one from Ryan McCarthy.  

McCarthy had a strong debut as well, carrying a heavy scoring load about midway through the game by notching a hat trick during roughly a 15-minute span from early in the second quarter to early in the third. Rusnak, Colin Gleason, Liam Hassett, Rocco Barbero, and Jack Cavaioli also scored for the Saints.

There is newfound optimism under fifth-year head coach Liam Gleason after clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2014 and returning nine starters including seven upperclassmen.   

Fifth-year goalkeeper Chris Yanchoris played the full game and recorded seven saves. 

The Highlanders (0-1) were led by redshirt junior Gavyn Willson, who tallied four goals, and Arthur Miller, who added two goals and an assist.

Siena returns to action to play at Providence on Saturday, February 18 with a noon faceoff on Chapey Field at Anderson Stadium.