I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been highly critical of the Penn football team this season, and following the Quakers’ dismal performance in a 27-13 loss to Yale, my criticisms were supposedly confirmed.
Billy Ragone was too careless with the ball. They started too slowly. The secondary wasn’t up to snuff. The defense — while it showed flashes of greatness — was inconsistent overall.
And I’m still highly critical of that Penn football team. But since the loss to Yale, a different team has emerged.
“That Yale game, I could kick myself,” coach Al Bagnoli said Saturday. “We kind of lost our way.”
But the post-Yale Quakers overcame a late fourth-quarter touchdown by Brown with two field goals in the final 2:12 to avoid an embarrassing home loss to the Bears on homecoming weekend. They traveled to Princeton to face the only Ivy team that had knocked off Harvard and forced four turnovers while scoring two touchdowns in the final frame to emerge with a seven-point win.
Even so, leading up to the de facto Ivy championship tilt against Harvard, I still didn’t give the post-Yale Quakers much of a chance. But boy, did they prove me wrong.
Penn didn’t play a perfect game against the Crimson, as many believed the team would have to in order to walk away with a win.
Ragone threw an ill-advised pass into triple-coverage on the Quakers’ second drive of the game, handing Harvard an interception and a momentum boost after its offense opened with a three-and-out. The defense twice let the Crimson find the end zone a few drives after Penn scored, and the Quakers couldn’t open up a two-possession lead until the fourth.
For much of the game, Penn let Harvard hang around. Yet the Quakers were the ones smoking cigars when the final whistle blew.
“Ever since [Yale], we’ve gotten a little bit closer to playing the way we are structured to play,” Bagnoli said. “I think today [against Havard] was the culmination of what we started three weeks ago.”
The Quakers ran the ball with authority, racking up 141 yards by the half. Even more impressive, when Harvard knew its opponent was going to run it, Penn still rummaged through the Crimson defensive front for 63 yards in the third quarter. Credit the offensive line for this area of dominance.
On the defensive side, there isn’t a more dominant series than the one the Red and Blue had on Harvard’s final stand. First down for the Crimson on their own 11-yard line: sack. Second down from the 10: sack again. Third down from the three: sack and safety. Game over. This wasn’t exactly the same performance we saw in New Haven.
So what’s the bottom line?
The Quakers played a complete game Saturday — not a flawless one — and proved they deserved the Ivy title. Don’t call it an upset. The Red and Blue were better than Harvard, and they’ll forever have the hardware to prove it.
MIKE WISNIEWSKI is a senior classical studies major from Philadelphia and is sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at wisniewski@theDP.com.