PRINCETON, N.J. — While the Quakers are tied for first place in the Ivy League with Harvard, most would agree that the Crimson have the edge in next week’s de facto Ivy championship game.
But based on the Quakers’ 28-21 win over Princeton, it would be unwise to count out the Red and Blue.
For better or worse, every single game Penn has played this season has been hard-fought from start to finish. Fourth-quarter scoring drives have become quarterback Billy Ragone’s specialty, and the defense should be credited with the big stops and picks that bring Ragone and the offense back on the field when the clock winds down.
There’s luck involved, sure. Good preparation, conditioning, trust, talent — all crucial components. But anything can happen in football. The better team doesn’t always win.
The teams that find a way to win, convincingly or not, have one quality that Ragone has identified in his team all season long: resilience.
Resilience brought the Quakers within inches of upsetting William and Mary despite a 17-point deficit in the third quarter and resilience allowed them to squeak past Columbia, 24-20, and Brown, 20-17.
Resilience means finding a way to win no matter what, and Saturday’s win over Princeton proves that the previous fourth-quarter comeback wins weren’t flukes.
Those kinds of wins early in the season are important to a team’s confidence toward the end, and the Quakers have reason to feel good heading into their final two games.
Against Princeton, the Red and Blue put together crucial components of the game when they needed to most, and the seniors — who have had so much success against the Tigers over the last three years — stepped up big time.
The Quakers set the tone early, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive, a 10-play, 70-yard march culminating in running back Jeff Jack’s 17-yard rush for the score. They answered when Princeton’s offense got going and they took advantage of a missed extra point attempt to go up 14-13 at half.
Both defenses picked off opposing quarterbacks, and both interceptions set up scores.
Senior defensive end C.J. Mooney returned an interception 15 yards for a score-tying touchdown with 7:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. The stalwart defense then forced a Princeton three-and-out, and Ragone led the offense down the field for his eighth career game-winning drive. With 30 seconds left to play, senior captain Brandon Copeland recovered a Princeton fumble on third-and-goal and sealed Penn’s victory.
Even the younger players hit their stride against Princeton. Sophomore punt returner Eric Fiore, who has been promising but inconsistent so far, had a 53-yard punt return to set up Penn’s second-quarter scoring drive that put them up at the half. Junior wideout Ty Taylor’s team-high three catches took some of the pressure off of fellow receiver Conner Scott, who was effectively shut down by the Tigers defense.
The Quakers showed impressive adaptability against Princeton. Faced with a defense that has allowed only 19.6 points per game and 114 average rushing yards, Penn turned in its most impressive rushing performance to date.
Lyle Marsh alone had 104 yards on the ground, joined by 50 from Jack and 61 from Ragone. The Tigers’ defense shut down Scott, but Ragone took advantage of the doubled-up coverage and found other targets for 92 yards and one touchdown in the air.
This team has overcome injuries, tough losses and point deficits that would derail most other teams. But the strength and gristle the Quakers have shown to the last ticks of the clock is special, and it’s been the difference in several seemingly lost causes. Big tests lie ahead — a Harvard team that just put up 69 points against Columbia, for one thing — but the Quakers have shown, if nothing else, that they can and will contend.
ANNA STRONG is a senior English major from Philadelphia and is former sports editor of The Summer Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at email@example.com.