With nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, it appeared the Penn sprint football team was about to give away a huge lead on its way to a disappointing season-ending loss.
Whit Shaw would have none of that.
The senior pulled in his second interception of the night, just one of many highlights as the wide receiver/defensive back put on a show. He sparked Penn (3-4, 2-4 CSFL) to a 36-21 win over Princeton (0-7, 0-6) on Senior Night with three touchdowns and two picks.
It was a fitting cap to a stellar career for Shaw, who ends his career as the Red and Blue’s all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdown receptions.
But his heroics almost went for naught.
After taking a dominating 26-7 lead into the half thanks to a four-yard touchdown run from Shaw and a three-yard touchdown reception on a Keith Braccia pass, a series of bizarre turnovers let the Tigers back into the game.
With 11 minutes left in the third quarter, a snap went over Braccia’s head and into the end zone, forcing running back Mike Beamish to kick the ball away on third down, setting Princeton up on the Quakers’ 18-yard line.
The Tigers made good on the opportunity, scoring on a 12-yard pass from Joseph Bush to Sean Conrad to cut the deficit to 26-14.
Later in the quarter, Braccia fumbled the ball away to the Tigers on a quarterback keeper, giving Princeton prime field position again, this time on the Penn 14.
A Bush one-yard sneak pulled the Tigers within five, sending the small Princeton contingent in the stands into a frenzy.
A promising Penn drive stalled, and the Red and Blue settled for a 39-yard Kai Peng field goal.
Given a chance to tie the game, Bush quickly marched the Tigers to a second-and-4 on the Penn 45, seemingly on the doorstep of a devastating touchdown.
Until Shaw stepped in, that is. He picked off Bush on a long pass down the left sideline by deflecting the ball to himself.
“I knew I was guarding their No. 1 guy [Cadman], and I knew they had to go to him,” Shaw said. “So I just sat back. [Bush] overthrew him, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.”
The interception swung the momentum back in Penn’s favor, and a five-yard pass from Braccia to Shaw with only two minutes left pushed the score to 36-21 and effectively ended any hope of a Tigers comeback.
Though the win didn’t count for much in the standings, it carried a significant amount of emotional weight for the Red and Blue.
“All of us, we really stepped it up for the [seniors],” said freshman defensive end Mack Pierson, who notched 2.5 sacks on the night. “We really played, and we won this game for them. The defense really dug deep, pulled together and held our ground.”
Though the win marks the end of the line for many notable contributors like Shaw, Peng and defensive end Anthony DiBella, much of the team consists of underclassmen, who have used this year as a chance to gel.
Coach Bill Wagner has high expectations for next year.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids who really got exposed to some combat under the gun,” he said. “We finished up on a good note, which is what we wanted to happen.”