Penn 10, Dartmouth 9

Starting off down five isn’t the way you win lacrosse games. Usually.

But Penn did just that on Saturday, eking out a win after trailing Dartmouth 6-1 just into the second quarter. The No. 9 Quakers sealed the 10-9 win over the Big Green with just 36 seconds remaining in regulation. Penn’s win was just the latest in a string of victories, inside the league and out, that have propelled the normally less-than-stellar Quakers lacrosse team into the upper strata of the Ancient Eight, with a top-10 ranking, too.

Dartmouth freshman Brian Koch opened the match with a goal within the first two minutes, setting the tone for an active Big Green offense. Penn mustered just one goal to tie the score before the Big Green went on a four-goal run by the end of the first quarter, including two in the last minute. One more Dartmouth goal to start off the second quarter brought the run to five before Penn was able to answer. Three Penn goals in the second quarter were countered by another one from Dartmouth, bringing the halftime score to 7-4.

A more spirited offense was not Penn’s only change midway through the second quarter, however. Penn coach Brian Voelker said yesterday that improved defense made the difference.

“It didn’t feel like we played well the first quarter and a half,” he said. “In the last two and a half quarters we played much better defense, won more ground balls and had better ball control.”

The Quakers outshot Dartmouth in all but the first period, leading 38-31 overall. But it was Penn’s ball control that allowed the Quakers to take so many shots in the first place. Dartmouth racked up 16 turnovers, nine of them caused by the Quakers, while they could only force four of Penn’s 12 turnovers.

Better ball-handling paid off, especially in the third quarter, setting up a three-goal Penn run that knotted the score at seven. Trading goals brought the score to a 9-8 Penn lead with less than a minute to go, but Koch — who scored three goals that day, the most on either team — tied the game with just 42 seconds left. A mere six seconds later, Penn wrapped up the win on a goal from senior and captain David Andrzejewski off a feed from senior Alan Eberstein.

League Impact

The Quakers are proving their mettle far more than they have in recent years. This weekend’s win came against a team that shared a piece of the Ivy crown two years ago, and Penn squelched then-No.2 Cornell (7-1, 2-1) on April Fool’s Day, 8-6, casting doubt on the Big Red’s hopes for a four-peat; the team that had won the league crown three years in a row, by itself in 2005 and sharing it in 2003 and 2004, is now ranked fourth in the nation and just third in the league.

Penn’s early performance this year is all the more impressive considering its Ivy finish in 2005 — dead last, with no league wins and just one outside it. The Quakers have not been perfect — the week before beating Cornell they fell to Harvard, 13-8 — but a league that once saw just a few teams race for the top each May has now been blown wide open.

But today’s showdown could change that completely. Penn will take on No. 5 Princeton (5-3, 1-0) this evening in New Jersey, giving the Quakers the opportunity to fell the sole team without an Ivy loss.

“It’s big for us,” Voelker said. “If we win it we have a real shot at winning the league.”

Even if Penn does lose, four of the league’s seven teams (Columbia does not play) will have just one loss, with Princeton sitting atop the pile with none.

Despite a topsy-turvy season so far for the league as a whole, Yale (5-5, 1-3) does not look primed to join in this game of King of the Hill. The Bulldogs have had trouble finding success in league matches, and their sole Ivy win so far has been against Brown (2-6, 0-1). Even so, this season of Ivy men’s lacrosse is shaping up to be one of the most dramatic in recent memory.