Penn rose to the occasion at Harvard Stadium on Saturday, overcoming powerful winds, torrential rain, and a talented Harvard squad that had been cruising through Ivy League play. The victory clinched the Quakers at least a share of the Ivy League title. The defeat forces the Crimson to rely on a Penn loss and a victory over Yale in the final weekend of play to nab a piece of the league crown for themselves.
Harvard has won at least a share of the title for two years in a row, and up until this weekend, the Crimson looked like they were in prime position to keep the Ancient Eight hardware in Cambridge. Following a three-point win over Brown in its Ivy opener, Harvard won its next four conference contests by an average of nearly 24 points.
Aside from a 42-7 dismantling of archrival Princeton, Penn has made a living scratching out close games in league play, beating Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown by single digits. The Quakers needed overtime to turn back the Bears’ upset bid.
Nevertheless, both teams entered last Saturday’s showdown undefeated in the Ivy League and expecting a close game that would hinge on a few key plays. In a display of how evenly matched the Ancient Eight’s two top teams really are, those game-changing moments were decided by a matter of inches.
In the second quarter, the Quakers were threatening deep in Crimson territory after a botched snap and a partially blocked punt gave quarterback Kyle Olson and the Penn offense the ball at the Harvard 29-yard line. Olson, attempting a quarterback sneak after another Crimson mistake—a roughing the passer penalty—put his team inside the one-yard line but had the ball knocked out of his hands right as he neared the goal line. The apparent fumble was recovered by Harvard. To the away team’s delight, the officiating crew decided Olson had broken the plane and awarded Penn the touchdown.
That score, complemented by a five-play scoring effort on Penn’s opening drive, held up as the game progressed. Penn’s defense also proved strong, as it has all year long. The Quakers made themselves known early, sacking Harvard quarterback Collier Winters twice on the Crimson’s first possession.
Harvard knew what was at stake and put together the sort of late-game, gutsy drive required in such evenly matched contests. With 2:44 to play, Harvard faced a fourth-and-one from the Penn one-yard line. On the previous play, Harvard had been held to less than a yard after taking the snap from the two-yard line.
With the Ivy League title on the line, Winters took the snap and lunged for the end zone. Penn senior captain and defensive back Chris Wynn came up with the stop, standing up the Harvard signal caller within inches of the goal line. With the failed fourth down, the Crimson lost any hope of a comeback, and the Quakers assured themselves of at least a share of their first title since 2003 (also their 14th title overall). The conference champs have now won seven straight games, and they stand at 7-2 overall as well as 6-0 in conference play. The Crimson are now 6-3 overall and 5-1 in Ivy competition.
And so, despite Harvard’s impressive play of late, Penn enters its date with Cornell ranked 24th nationally, the highest ranking among the Ivies, and positioned to win the league crown outright with a victory.
In other Ancient Eight action, Princeton overcame Yale 23-17, and Dartmouth fell to Brown 14-7. The Tigers found themselves back in the winning column thanks to a breakout performance from sophomore quarterback Tommy Wornham, who finished the day 16-for-23 with 136 yards passing and an additional 55 yards running the ball. Senior running back Kenny Gunter turned in the first 100-yard rushing performance of the year for Princeton on the same day the Tigers honored their graduating class. Princeton enters its last game of the season with an overall record of 3-6 (2-4 Ivy). The Bulldogs are now 4-5 on the season (2-4 Ivy) as they head into their rivalry showdown in New Haven against the Crimson.
In Providence, the Big Green forced the Bears into overtime with a stellar defensive effort only to be doomed by Brown quarterback Kyle Newhall’s laser to Buddy Farnham in overtime. On the ensuing possession, The Big Green needed a touchdown to stay alive, but Dartmouth’s freshman quarterback Greg Patton was stopped on fourth-and-one to end the game. Brown moved to 6-3 overall (4-2 Ivy) with the win, and Dartmouth fell to 2-7 (2-4 Ivy) in defeat.