It took an unorthodox approach from coach Rudy Fuller for Penn to snap its six-game losing skidon Wednesday.
Five Quakers got their first career starts, as Fuller played mostly his reserves for the entire first half. The reserve-heavy lineup got the Quakers a 1-0 lead, but at halftime Fuller put most of his first-team players back on the field.
“It was a group of guys that had been waiting for their opportunity and had been training well in the lead up to the game,” Fuller said. “This was our last real chance before Ivy play to see what our depth was like.”
The end result? A 3-2 victory for the Red and Blue over a Drexel (5-3-1) side that had come into the game riding a five-game winning streak.
“We gave these guys a chance and I couldn’t be prouder of the guys, they did fantastic,” Fuller said.
Senior captain Ethan Jones, junior midfielder Mariano Gonzalez, sophomores Aaron Chen and Forrest Clancy, and sophomore Max Polkinhorne all earned their first career starts for the Quakers.
But it was a first-team regular who opened the scoring. In the 19thminute, junior forward Duke Lacroix latched on to a through ball, dribbled around the onrushing goalkeeper and tucked the ball neatly into the net to give Penn the early advantage.
After the goal, the Dragons gained momentum as play started to shift more towards the Red and Blue’s defensive end. Drexel was unlucky not to be given a penalty on a big no-call from the referee.
The Penn defense held firm, keeping the score at 1-0 going in to halftime.
“The guys who started deserved it,” freshman forward Sam Heyward said. “They came out hard and we knew they could handle it.”
Fuller made several changes to his side, a risky move considering the reserves had done well and had given the Quakers a valuable lead. But the move paid off.
The “University City Derby” heated up in the second half, as Drexel came out with more energy in an effort to find the equalizer.
In the 68thminute, freshman Sam Heyward doubled Penn’s lead by slotting home a left-footed finish from just inside the box.
The game looked comfortable for the Quakers, but just eight minutes later, Drexel responded with a header goal by senior Ken Tribbett to make it 2-1.
Heyward extended his team’s lead with a wonderful solo effort in the 77thminute to give the Quakers what seemed to be a comfortable lead.
But the Red and Blue allowed another late goal, as the ball ricocheted off the post and hit Penn freshman Matt Poplawski before finding the net for an own goal.
“It was just a little lapse in mental focus, I think,” Polkinhorne, playing in goal for the first time since transferring from Santa Clara, said. “Everyone is a little gassed, we played a lot of games in the last few games, so that contributed to it.”
That led to some nervous final moments, but Fuller’s side stood firm to bring home the 3-2 victory.
“It’s a University City derby,” Fuller said. “We love the game, we want to play it every year. We want to establish ourselves as the best team in the city, so games like this are important.”
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