The Quakers have faced their fair share of challenges this season, from turnovers and defensive collapses to hurricanes and nor’easters.
Yet, despite the setbacks, the Red and Blue have continued pushing through — succeeding more often than not.
Now, it’s time for their biggest test yet.
Saturday at noon, No. 25 Harvard (7-1, 4-1 Ivy) comes to Franklin Field in what is a de facto Ivy League title game.
With a win, Penn (4-4, 4-1) would clinch at least a share of the Ancient Eight crown.
This year’s Harvard squad has dominated the league, sans one bad quarter against Princeton three weeks ago. Last Saturday, the Crimson shut out Columbia, 69-0, in the most lopsided victory since the formation of the Ivy League.
The Crimson rank fourth in the FCS with an average of 516 yards of offense per game, and they score over 40 points per contest.
Even scarier for foes, not only do the Crimson dominate on offense, but they are stout defensively, holding opponents to just 15 points per game.
But if Penn has one thing on its side, it’s momentum.
A comeback win against Princeton last Saturday was the most complete game the Quakers have played all season.
“We all understand that this is championship week, what we’ve been playing for all season,” senior tailback Lyle Marsh said. “We were really happy to get the win against Princeton and we’re hoping that the win can carry into this week.”
Getting back to their roots and doling out more carries last week were essential in the Quakers’ victory. Marsh ran for over 100 yards — the first Penn player to do so this season.
Overall, the Red and Blue rushed for 211 yards, averaging over five yards per carry.
“We got back to our offensive identity,” Marsh said. “We’re supposed to be known as a smashmouth team, and Saturday was the first time we really showed what we were capable of.”
Despite the improvement, Harvard’s run defense could make coach Al Bagnoli hesitant in dishing out carries. The Crimson give up just less than 44 yards per game, the stingiest rushing ‘D’ in the Ivy League.
The Quakers expect Harvard to put points on the board, placing added pressure on the offense to keep up the pace.
For that to happen, Billy Ragone will have to limit his mistakes — he’s thrown a pick in each of the last two games.
If Conner Scott can get open, after being shut down by the Tigers, the odds will shift further in the Quakers’ favor.
After all, the Crimson’s pass defense is their one weak cog in an otherwise very intimidating machine. They rank seventh in the Ivy League, giving up 270 yards per contest.
Princeton’s win over Harvard didn’t show the Quakers much in terms of how to game plan against the Crimson, but the lesson learned may have been even more valuable.
“Never quit,” Marsh said. “Princeton was down late, but they never laid down.”
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