After a tensely challenged 90 minutes against reigning MAAC champions Monmouth, the Quakers claimed the win at Rhodes Field by flipping the scoreline of their preceding 1-0 loss against Rutgers on the road.
Senior Isaac McGinnis’ header played the sole difference on the scoresheet in the physically demanding clash against the visiting Hawks.
“They're a good team,” McGinnis said. “They went to the NCAA tournament last year, and they returned all their starters, and they’ve got a lot of good sizes on there. Most of the midfield is over six foot, but we did a good job contesting balls, battling for stuff, and then we came out with it.”
Despite Monmouth (2-3-2) establishing an aggressive fight for possession at the initial whistle, Penn (4-2-1) remained far up the pitch to immediately counter the challenge. The Quakers’ patience was characteristic of their previous win at Rhodes field, and they weren’t hasty after the ball.
But five minutes in, a goal kick sent by Penn goalkeeper Dane Jacomen was seized by Hawks midfielder Luke McBeth, a 6-foot-3 junior from Scotland who proved a tough opponent for the Quakers’ midfield. The Hawks won several more of Jacomen’s goal kicks through the game as Penn trended toward losing possession quite frequently.
But Penn finally broke through the standoff with an early goal at nine minutes in. A cross toward the far post was headed into the net by Isaac McGinnis with the exceptional assist credited to Ben Stitz. After an enthusiastic celebration at the far corner, senior midfielder Anthony Rovito returned to his position near the stands and motioned toward the fans for support. The crowd returned a cheer of encouragement, as well as a bark from a dog.
Issues with the scoreboard presented Penn as 0-0 at 13 minutes in, despite the notable header scored almost five minutes prior. A “Let’s Go Penn” chant confirmed the enthusiastic outlook from the Penn supporters as the Quakers didn’t concede immediately after scoring.
“I think we were just a bit more switched on today,” junior Nick Schimbeno said. “We were very focused, and it's something that we've been talking about in film and stuff — to make sure that the next five minutes after a goal, that we're holding things down.”
The referee was vocal to both sides very frequently early in the game. As physicality between the opposing teams advanced, Penn unfortunately encountered another loss to injury on an already abbreviated roster as Stitz fell to the ground and came off at the 14th minute mark.
Around halfway into the first half, Penn’s defense looked much stronger as they picked up on Monmouth’s attacking patterns. The Quakers won more possession through the Hawks’ right wing, and any attempts by Monmouth to progress the ball nearer to the box were contested heavily by Penn’s defenders.
Jacomen leaped into action at 20 minutes for a save against a cross from Monmouth’s right wing and was louder in his directions to Penn’s outfield players. His confidence proved crucial to the Quakers maintaining their energy into the second half as the Red and Blue veered toward losing more possession.
“Coach Gill talks a lot about getting us over a hump," Jacomen said. "That's something that was kind of in our mentality collectively going into this one, and we got out of it just by working for each other, communicating, and really just keeping the energy level high for a full 90 minutes. There was no let up from the first whistle all the way to the last, and that ultimately saw us through.”
The pressure endured just as arduously after the halftime break as Monmouth fought for a surge in pace. The Hawks’ speed in runs and passes presented a greater challenge, and Penn’s defense remained alert for every minute. Yet despite many near chances, not one ended up in the goal, which was intensely guarded by Jacomen to finish the game with five saves. At 55 minutes, a Monmouth corner flew dangerously near the goal but landed on top of the net.
“We felt we could sit in our block and they weren't breaking us down too much,” McGinnis said. “Again, with some of our best attacking players out, it was really any means necessary. I don't think any of us were nervous. We felt confident that we could go out and get the job done.”
A chance for Penn through the left wing then followed as the Quakers were pushed into the left corner, a view obstructed from the stands by the low hanging tree branches. A promising cross emerged from behind the trees, but ultimately bounced off the center crossbar.
The Hawks’ unmarked right wing again proved a thorough challenge for Penn in the late game. By connecting build-up plays and assertively protecting possession, Monmouth battered several chances toward goal.
“I do wish we had the ball a bit more, but the problem was Monmouth was very high up on our goal kicks so we had to go a bit higher,” Schimbeno said. “I do think our whole team would probably say we wished we had a bit more possession right but it was a difficult one. They definitely did their film and made sure that we didn't build out the back like we have in previous games.”
At 10 minutes left, the stands revived a “Let’s Go Penn” chant that was joined again by a barking dog.
A final chance for Matt Leigh out of a cross from the left wing just missed the goal to its right. Another shot by Stas Korzeniowski was the last of four shots taken by Penn in the second half.
Penn was shown three yellows in the last five minutes as tensions compounded. A scuffle between the teams near Penn’s goal was intervened by the referees, and Jacomen was shown a yellow before play continued.
Once the clock finally expired, several players on both teams immediately fell to the ground — proof of the resilient fight challenged by each side. Penn’s players lined up to applaud the stands before their cool down stretches, which was generously returned by Penn fans.
“I think it was a really gritty result from the team.” Jacomen said. “Performance-wise, it might not have been our best night, but I think that's the quality of a good team, is to be able to like pull out results when you know you might not be at your best, and I think that showed a lot about the character in the group to come out with the win tonight.”
With this win, Penn improves from its opening record of the 2019 season ahead of their first Ivy League matchup against Cornell on Saturday at Rhodes Field.