TOWSON, Md. - When Penn handed three-time NCAA women's lacrosse champion Northwestern an 11-7 loss at Franklin Field on April 27, it was the only defeat the then-No. 1 team in the nation had suffered during the regular season.

At 7 tonight at Johnny Unitas Stadium on the campus of Towson University, the Quakers will face the top-seeded Wildcats again. This time, it will be for the NCAA Division I national championship.

"Northwestern is a team that takes you out of your game, and if you haven't played them, it's really hard to understand the tempo they bring," Penn coach Karin Brower said. "I'm glad we were able to play them during the regular season, and that we know what to expect from them. We played very well, and we're going to have to play well again."

Penn's only loss came March 9 at Stanford, by two goals. The second-seeded Quakers (17-1), who have never won a national title in women's lacrosse, enter the final with a school-record 15 consecutive victories. They bettered the 13 in a row they won last season before falling to Northwestern in the national semifinals at Franklin Field.

Penn outlasted Duke in the semifinals Friday with a 9-8 victory secured by Rachel Manson's goal with 42 seconds left in the second overtime.

After the go-ahead score, the Quakers controlled a draw and were able to keep the Blue Devils from regaining possession. Duke had tied the game, 8-8, with one minute left in regulation.

"I thought that was a great battle out there," Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. "Penn is a very [experienced] team, and I think that's what sustained them through the ups and downs. . . . I think they'll do a great job in the national championship game."

Northwestern (20-1), which dominated Penn during an 11-2 victory in the semifinals last spring, treated Syracuse the same way during the second half of its game Friday.

The Wildcats had a 7-6 edge at halftime, but they scored the first nine goals of the second half and wound up on top by 16-8.

"I just said we wanted to come out fearless in the second half and not be afraid to take our chances," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said of her talk with her players during intermission. "Coming out of halftime leading 7-6, I knew that wasn't our best effort. I knew if our girls stepped up, we would have more open looks."

Against Northwestern, Penn will be seeking its first national championship in any sport since the women's squash team claimed the title in 2000. Penn also has won titles in women's fencing (1986) and men's fencing (1953, 1969, 1981).

"I think they will come out as hard as we will come out," said Sarah Waxman, Penn's goalie. "It's a national championship game. Both teams will bring their best."

As for the teams' previous matchups, Northwestern midfielder Ali Jacob said, they won't be a factor.

"Every year is different," said Jacob, whose team also defeated Penn during the regular season last year. "We're just excited to make it to the final game. The preparation we've had all year helps, and being here last year also helps. But once the whistle blows, it doesn't matter what happened in the past."

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.