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9-10-2021-mens-soccer-vs-penn-state-ben-stitz-samantha-turner
Senior Midfielder Ben Stitz fights for control of the ball against Penn State during a game on Sept. 10th. Credit: Samantha Turner

Penn men’s soccer hosted Mount St. Mary's at Rhodes Field for a chance to redeem themselves after a draw on Monday night. The Quakers thus proved their diligence in a 5-1 win, as five different Penn players made the scoresheet.

"We knew we were capable of that kind of performance, but it was just a matter of coming out ready to play and do what we do best," senior midfielder Ben Stitz said.

While the margin of the result was wide, the game was still an incredibly tough fight for Penn. The Mountaineers put the Quakers on their toes immediately at the start of the match. Mount St. Mary's won the most possession in the opening five minutes as it crowded its right wing and progressed the ball with great pace towards the goal.

“Credit to them; they started well,” head coach Brian Gill said. “They actually had a couple moments there early on; they were energized. They came out and put some good attack together early on.”

Penn graduate player Joey Bhangdia, whose immense start to the season contributed to an optimistic buzz among the stands before the game, pulled in early towards the center to narrow Penn’s formation after an attempt to begin wide.

Fans with banners and one dog populated the stands, shouting nicknames like Matt “Matty” Leigh and cheering on for more pressure from Penn. But soon, the crowd grew anxious as Penn lost aerials and possession to the Mountaineers who were keen on keeping a faster pace.

A ball was headed towards a passing train 13 minutes into the match but dropped into the benches; a pointer of the many more balls to be played out of bounds. With 19 throw-ins in the first half, the Quakers tested various options to find a comfortable pace.

But Penn maintained poise for what was eventually to come. The Quakers carved out better chances through the wing, as Penn’s defenders matched the pace of Mount St. Mary’s full backs. The search for space was rewarded as Penn lured the defenders towards the right wing, leaving striker Matt Leigh unmarked to head in the first goal of the game at the 14th minute. Ben Stitz initiated the important assist and grasped onto an integral role for the rest of the game.

“We said from the beginning that we wanted to get on top of them early," Leigh said. "And I think that's finally what we did, which was good.”

Penn drew more narrow and conservative following its opening goal. Leigh was immediately countered with three defenders and urged off the ball.

After a quickly-taken throw-in by Mount St. Mary’s, the Mountaineers immediately capitalized, as the ball was crossed in towards the center and netted by graduate student Jack Shearer, living up to the likeness of his last name.

“One thing that we've been dealing with is conceding goals after scoring, which [we] unfortunately did again, so we're hoping to work that out,” Leigh said after the game.

However, despite conceding a goal only four minutes after their opening score, the atmosphere was unlike the previous match at Rhodes field that resulted in Penn sharing the points with Loyola. Penn was not anxious and instead bet on patience, and the Quakers were thoroughly rewarded as their pace exceeded the Mountaineers late into the game. 

Credit: Nicholas Fernandez Senior Anthony Rovito leads off down the field with the ball in a game vs Penn State on Sept. 10th.

“I think we had a really good response; a better response than we had in our past four games," Leigh said.

“Our boys weren't in a rush, and they stuck together in those moments," Gill said. "It was good to see us not panic and be able to kind of work our way through the game and create some good chances and score goals.”

But in the midst of its goal-scoring streak, Penn encountered a loss of another kind. Critical starting midfielder Bhangdia dropped to the ground holding his leg at the 23rd minute mark but was outside the vision of the referee as play progressed. He was finally noticed in the next minute after attempting to continue, but eventually fell to the ground once again near the center circle. His departure from the field was observed with a large applause from the stands with an accurate apprehension that he would not return for the remainder of the game.

As a result, Penn encountered a slight trip in its rhythm with one of their most significant players off the field. But as Mount St. Mary’s passing accuracy diminished further into the game, chances sprouted for Penn with more opportunities at goal. Leigh once again pounced on a chance to score but was denied by Mount St. Mary’s goalkeeper Ethan Russell.

At around 15 minutes left in the first half, Kai Lammers could be heard calling out to his teammates from the left wing, pointing to the space available near himself as Mount St. Mary’s defenders crowded the right. 

Lammers further strengthened his presence in the game, as he contested and won challenging aerials. Then, near the half-hour mark, Ben Stitz detected an opportunity from the wing. He crossed the ball into the box, which was welcomingly pocketed by Lammers for a goal in the 31st minute.

Possession was key after Penn regained the lead. The Quakers won more balls at or above the center line and continued pressing high. At 35 minutes, Penn sophomore Michael Hewes secured the ball from the center line and confidently ran straight into four defenders. After several attempts, Hewes finally scored, launching the ball into the top left for an unassisted goal.

Penn’s upbeat pace survived into the last ten minutes. From a quickly taken throw-in, Mount St. Mary’s defenders were left to scramble as Ben Stitz capitalized on the chance by sending the ball into the bottom left at 36 minutes.

The first half concluded as dramatically as the rest of the first half, as Penn goalkeeper Dane Jacomen punched away an anxious chance by Mount St. Mary’s in the last ten seconds.

Penn’s possession was immediately tested at the beginning of the second half. But despite the Mountaineers’ quick progression through the field, Penn’s defenders drew more confidence as Mount St. Mary’s failed to finish. The Quakers remained narrow to quickly close in on and stave off any chances for the Mountaineers. 

The Quakers also jumped on any chance to score. A strong shot by Anthony Rovito at 50 minutes was countered with a one-handed save. Penn took several corners which were sent low towards the near post and heavily defended by the Mountaineers.

But the Penn supporters were rewarded with one final stunner at the 88th minute when Stas Korzeniowski launched a shot straight into the net after he snatched a chance in the quick-paced counterattack. His goal marked Penn’s final stats at 20 shots, 11 shots on goal, and five scored.

“I think the best takeaway from tonight is that we had five different goalscorers,” Leigh said.

"Tonight was something where he saw some guys get some first opportunities and some real spots which was great, and we saw them take their chance as well," Gill said. "That will bode well for their confidence moving forward, and I'm really happy for those guys to have that experience." 

Thus far, Penn men's soccer has mirrored the start of its 2019 season with a win after an opening win, a loss, a tie, and finally another victory to match the record. The Quakers will look to keep up their positive momentum when they face Rutgers on Monday in Piscataway, N.J. at 7:00 p.m.

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