It feels good to be on top. It feels even better when you do it with a come-from-behind victory at home.
On Saturday night, the Quakers (6-6-1, 3-0-1 Ivy) came from behind twice to beat the visiting Yale Bulldogs, 3-2, in overtime and take full possession of first place in the Ivy League.
“That was a really important win for a lot of reasons,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “To get three points is huge, but the way we did it is the most impressive thing.
“To come back twice and equalize the way we did, then to find that third goal on a night when we just didn’t seem to have that same rhythm and flow that we usually do … we found a different way to win.”
The first half was one to forget for the Quakers, as both teams generated few chances. The only goal of the half came off one of the least threatening attacks.
A looping Yale (3-9-1, 2-1-1 Ivy) cross looked like a simple grab for senior goalkeeper Tyler Kinn, but the ball bobbled out of his hands for a split second. He regained possession of it, but the referee ruled that the ball had crossed the goal line, giving Yale the 1-0 lead.
Penn stepped up its game in the second half, thanks in large part to the efforts of freshman Matt Poplawski in the center of midfield.
“They just outplayed us in the first half,” Poplawski said. “They worked harder than us and Rudy told us that, especially in the midfield, we needed to win the first and second balls.”
Poplawski was rewarded for his endeavors with the equalizing goal in the 53rd minute. The Seattle, Wash. native smashed home a header from a corner taken by senior Stephen Baker.
The Bulldogs took the lead again with a nicely worked goal tapped home at the far post by freshman forward Cameron Kirdzik.
Trailing by a goal with time running down, Fuller put all his cards on the table by subbing in all four of his forwards at the same time.
“It’s the first time in my time at Penn that we’ve had four forwards we can rotate into the game and still be dangerous,” Baker said. “It’s great that we can have so much of an offensive threat on the field at one time.”
But in the end, it was a defender who leveled the game at 2-2 for the Quakers, as senior captain Jonny Dolezal scored off a diving header with less than four minutes remaining.
In the dying seconds of regulation, Yale threatened with a powerful headed effort, but Kinn redeemed himself from his earlier mistake to save what would surely have been the game-winning goal.
In sudden-death overtime, both teams would have taken any type of goal. So the Quakers certainly had no complaints when Baker got the winner through one of the scrappiest goals of the season.
Freshman Alec Neumann created the chance by blocking the Yale goalkeeper’s attempted clearance.
Fortunately for the Red and Blue, the ball fell just feet from the Bulldogs’ goal. Several Quakers charged towards it trying to get anything on it just to force the ball home, and Baker got the decisive touch on it to seal the Penn victory.
With Princeton’s loss earlier in the day to Harvard, Penn controls its destiny with just three games left to play in the Ivy season.
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