Heading into Saturday's Ivy League contest at Ohiri Field, the Penn men's soccer team looked to spoil Harvard's title hopes for the second straight year.
Penn couldn't do it again. The Crimson (12-0-2 overall, 6-0 Ivy League) rolled to a 3-1 triumph, guaranteeing the booters at least a share of the league crown.
But the game wasn't without a spoiler. The fierce winds which rocked Ohiri proved to be Harvard's toughest opponent, turning the Crimson's final homestand into a one-sided battle in front of 450 fans--the booters' smallest home crowd of the season.
"We normally like to send a lot of long balls and chip in behind the fullbacks," Crimson goaltender Chad Reilly said, "but with this wind we can't do it."
With its overpowering speed, Harvard has been able to play a fast break offense for most of the season. But facing the wind in the second half Saturday, the Crimson was forced to utilize the passing skills it's been hiding most of the season.
"We were playing better in the first half than usual," junior back Gian D'Ornellas said, "but we played better when we started playing the ball on the ground in the second half."
A Ramy Rajballie goal 25 minutes into the second period--which proved to be the game-winner--showcased the Crimson's ball-handling skills.
Sophomore forward Derek Mills moved the ball through the center then sent it into the left corner, where it was picked up by senior midfielder Nick Hotchkin. Hotchkin drove a low crossing pass in front of goal and sophomoreforward Nick D'Onofrio stepped over it to allow acharging Rajballie to make the shot.
"Good decisions and good technique," HarvardCoach Mike Getman said. "That second goal wasexcellent."
Sophomore midfielder Paul Baver-stock fired afree kick over the defensive wall and into theright side of net to give the Crimson a 1-0advantage midway through the first half.
Penn played a defensive first period againstthe wind, not taking its first shot until onlythree minutes remained in the half. Startinggoalie Stephen Hall fielded the ball cleanly forthe first of only two saves during his 70-minutestint.
"Penn was just trying to chew up time in thefirst half," said Reilly, who finished out thefinal 15 minutes in goal in just his thirdappearance of the season.
With the wind at its back in the second period,the Quakers started their attack and knotted thescore, 1-1, on a Chris Barlow tally. Rajballiecountered 10 minutes later, and sophomore forwardDave Kramer closed out the scoring with a shot upthe center on a D'Onofrio assist.
"Penn is a good team and they did challengeus," Getman said. "They didn't have the athleticability that we have. That's been the case withmost teams this season."
Speed has been an advantage for Harvardthroughout the season. But the Crimson has madelittle use of its superior passing skills--simplybecause it hasn't had to.
"It's been a little while since we've reallyput things together," Reilly said.
With D'Ornellas, freshman Nick Gates, andjunior Roger Chapman returning to the backfield,the Crimson line-up is beginning to gel--just intime for the NCAA post-season playoffs.
Harvard's only regular-season contest remainingis a road contest at Yale in two weeks, a match-upwhich will likely determine the Ivy winner. ACrimson victory would give Harvard sole possessionof the league crown--it's first title since 1970.
"These guys have worked extremely hard allyear," Getman said. "They've earned the Ivytitle."
THE NOTEBOOK:Kramer's goal was his 10thof the season, giving him a team-leading 22points...Penn made a mere five shots to theCrimson's 19...Quaker goalie Mark Tepper had threesaves...The Penn game was originally scheduled fornext weekend, but the contest was moved up so itcould be played before post-season playoff berthswere determined...Official word on NCAA bids willbe announced this morning, with Harvard theodds-on favorite for the top seed in the NewEngland region