While the Penn men’s soccer senior class was honored before the game kicked off, it was a freshman duo who stole the show to give the Quakers a much-needed victory.
Freshmen Matt Poplawski and Sam Hayward got on the score sheet for Penn (7-8-1, 4-1-1 Ivy) in a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against rival Princeton (6-9-1, 3-2-1).
Coach Rudy Fuller had billed the game to his players as basically a first-round tournament game since the Red and Blue needed a win to keep its Ivy League — and NCAA tournament — dream alive.
“I’m happy for the guys. I think it was a very difficult game.” he said. “We knew it was going to be a classic Ivy League matchup with a lot of emotion riding on the game.”
But in the opening half hour, it was the Tigers who played with a sense of urgency.
Princeton capitalized on its early advantage in the 28th minute with a goal from Cameron Porter to go up, 1-0 . After a scramble in the box from a corner, the ball found its way to Porter, who smashed it just inside the top post.
The early deficit was a wake-up call to the Quakers, as they began to play with more commitment and purpose during the later part of the first half.
The extra intensity paid off through a Lakeside School connection in the 43rd minute. Junior Louis Schott fed the ball across the face of the goal and his former high school teammate Poplawski slid in at the far post to level the score at 1-1.
In the second half, senior goalkeeper Tyler Kinn aggravated an ankle injury suffered in the first period and needed to be substituted. Fuller did not flinch in putting in his backup, sophomore Max Polkinhorne.
“We’ve got two good keepers, and we have all the confidence in the world in Max to go in there and do the job,” Fuller said.
Penn kept the momentum going after halftime, as the Quakers played quite possibly their best 45 minutes of the season.
“Our halftime talk was all about, ‘It’s game 16. You’re overthinking it,’” Fuller said. “‘Your body knows, your mind knows where to go. Just relax and enjoy it and show your personality.’ And we were a different team in the second half.”
The Red and Blue were all over the Tigers in the second half, and that pressure turned into a goal in the 61st minute.
Sophomore Forrest Clancy made a charging run through midfield, beat one Tigers defender and played Hayward in on the left side of the box. Hayward timed his run to perfection and coolly slotted his shot in past the far post to give Penn a 2-1 lead.
“I’ve had a lot of trouble putting the ball in the net,” Hayward said. “So that one just felt great and took some of the pressure off my shoulders.”
The Quakers created a few more chances as the second period wore on, but Princeton eventually grabbed a hold of the game and created chances of its own in the final moments of the match.
Polkinhorne was up to the challenge though, as he claimed several crosses and made some key saves to preserve the Penn victory and give the senior class one final win at Rhodes Field.
“We wanted to play for each other, play for the team, but in particular those seven guys,” Fuller said. “They’ve done a lot for us over this past year, and we wanted to send them out on a high note.”
The win sets up a pseudo-championship game next weekend to decide the Ivy League title, as the Quakers travel to play first-place Harvard in the final game of the season.
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