Even as football games have come to rival chess matches in the amount of strategy employed, the sport is still, at its core, about imposing physical will on the opposing team.
Saturday, with the season on the line, the Quakers in the trenches were the imposers and the Harvard Crimson the imposed upon. The result was another Ivy League title and victory cigars all around.
When asked how Penn ran so effectively against a Harvard squad that entered the contest allowing a paltry 43 yards per contest on the ground, Harvard coach Tim Murphy had a simple response.
“They did a good job blocking our guys,” Murphy said. “You can talk about schemes, you can talk about strategy, but they did a good job blocking our guys at the point of attack.”
Behind a powerful offensive line, the Red and Blue ran the ball early and often to the tune of 227 yards, more than five times what Harvard had allowed entering the game. They also kept a talented Crimson defensive line away from quarterbacks Billy Ragone and Andrew Holland — neither took a sack.
During the postgame press conference, coach Al Bagnoli spoke of “unsung heroes.” It’s true that offensive linemen rarely find their names in the paper due to their lack of game statistics and their unglamorous duties. But Jake Schwertner, Steve Szostak, Chris Bush, Mike Pinciotti, Joe Bonadies and Sam Graham had as large a role, if not larger than any other player in Saturday’s victory.
Time to throw, room to scramble, holes to run through: All were available thanks to the performance of the O-line.
And while the offensive linemen were sitting on the red benches on the sideline taking a breather, their defensive compatriots were making life difficult on Crimson quarterback Colton Chapple and the vaunted Harvard offense.
Senior captain Brandon Copeland, C.J. Mooney and Taylor Brown had huge games, and the rest of the defense lined up behind them played their best game of the season.
Chapple may have sensed he was in for a long day when, on Harvard’s first possession, he became acquainted with Copeland and — very shortly afterward — the Franklin Field turf as he took a sack.
The quarterback was hurried all day — he was sacked six times and threw two interceptions.
On Harvard’s final offensive possession, it was as if the D-line had agreed to have a meeting at the quarterback, getting to Chapple behind the line three times.
Harvard halfback Treavor Scales also saw more red jerseys in the Harvard backfield than he would have preferred, managing just 68 yards rushing.
In total, the Penn ‘D’ stopped the Crimson behind the line 12 times for a loss of 36 yards on the game. They held Harvard to its lowest point total, 21, of the entire season.
A Penn team with something to prove got back to its roots and employed one of the most tried and true tactics in football: Hit the other guy harder than he can hit you.
“Penn was tremendously physical all day,” Harvard senior tight end Kyle Juszczyk said. “All the credit has to go to them.”
The credit and the spoils. And the cigars.
ETHAN ALTER is a senior history major from Los Altos, Calif. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.