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11-9-19-msoccer-vs-princeton-ben-stitz

In a game where scoring opportunities were hard to come by, sophomore midfielder Ben Stitz generated a chance that would have given the Red and Blue a lead over the Tigers at Rhodes Field on Saturday.

Credit: Son Nguyen

The Tigers pounced all game, but Penn was able to defend its home turf.

The Quakers took on Princeton this weekend at Rhodes Field with both teams entering tied for third in the Ivy League table, a place they will continue to share after a 0-0 draw.

This match was characterized by wildly varying forms of play and continued momentum shifts. Although the Tigers (10-3-3, 2-1-3 Ivy) began strong in the start of the first half, the Red and Blue (6-5-4, 2-1-3) gained momentum in the latter part, consistently threatening the Princeton goal.

The second half was more even, with both teams finding similar opportunities to score. As the game carried on into overtime, both sides capitalized off the long ball but were consistently shooting wide of the mark. Ultimately, neither team found the back of the net, ending the game in a tie.

In the first 20 minutes, possession was dominated by the Tigers. Princeton’s midfield was largely successful in keeping the ball in the Penn half and creating scoring chances. As the game drew on, however, Penn capitalized off a shaky Princeton backline with numerous counterattacks, picking the Tigers' defense apart and consistently pressuring their fullbacks. Neither team had particularly impressive shooting in the first half. Princeton's shots proved to be no trouble for sophomore goalie Dane Jacomen.

In the second half, Penn started to gain momentum. The Red and Blue dominated possession after the break, but Princeton found some ways to pressure the Quakers' defensive line.

Credit: Son Nguyen

Penn’s closest chance came in the 68th minute. After strong build-up play sparked by sophomore midfielder Ben Stitz, junior midfielder Joey Bhangdia received a well-played ball and cut into the top of the penalty box. He then curled the ball around Princeton’s keeper, but it ricocheted off of the post. After this chance, the momentum shifted to the Tigers, who had one of their closest chances in the 71st minute with a shot requiring a diving save from Jacomen.

“I think we battled really well. We didn’t make anything easy for Princeton, especially when we were a bit pinned into our end," Stitz said. “I like the way we adjusted. Like our first half, we got pinned in the first 20-or-so minutes, and then I thought the next 15, and on into the second half, I thought it was pretty good from us offensively.”

As the half started to come to a close, both teams feverishly tried to find the back of the net. Princeton nearly found a winner in the 88th minute, requiring another save from Jacomen. As the 90th minute approached, Penn had one last chance to find the net on a free kick, but the ball sailed into the Princeton keeper’s hands.

Going into overtime, both teams were hungry for a goal. Despite back-and-forth play, inaccurate shooting from both teams saw the first period end scoreless.

The second 10 minutes started in the same way. The Tigers found two shots early, but Penn's defense, anchored by junior Alex Touche, worked hard to keep the ball out. Nearing the last seconds of the game, a scramble for the ball and a bicycle kick from Princeton nearly found the back of the net. However, Jacomen was able to grab the ball with two seconds left, ending the game at 0-0.

“I was really proud of the way that we battled throughout the game," Touche said. “Princeton-Penn is always a bit of a fight, and I think that at first we didn’t come out that strongly, but we really grew into the game and had chances towards the end to take it.”

Although the game did not end in a Penn win, it was special in that it was the last home game for five Penn seniors. Senior captain Brandon Bartel was especially proud of the team.

“I’m really proud of how far we’ve come at my time here at Penn," Bartel said. “Obviously there were some bumpy times in the past, and we were able to really lock down and we set out our path to rebuild. Sitting at 6-5-4 this season, it’s definitely a step forward and something that I’m happy to leave behind."

Penn heads to Cambridge, Mass. next weekend to take on Harvard in both sides' season finale.

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