IVY. LEAGUE. CHAMPIONS.
After a predicted sixth-place finish in the Ivy preseason media poll, Penn football finished its season with a 34-21 win over Cornell to claim a share of its 17th conference title. Dartmouth earned a share of the Ancient Eight title with a 17-10 win over Princeton, while Harvard defeated Yale for the ninth-straight year, 38-19. It is the first time since 1982 that three teams have shared the Ivy crown.
The Red and Blue (7-3, 6-1 Ivy) are Ivy League champions for the first time since the 2012 season, when the current seniors were freshmen. This is the first title in the Ray Priore era, as the first-year head coach has navigated his program back from one of its worst years in recent memory.
“It’s the most gritty team I’ve been around in my tenure here. I’m so proud of them, of what they’ve accomplished,” Priore said. “It’s hard to win. It’s hard to go out there week in and week out, and for six straight weeks, it’s been backs to the wall, must-win.”
Right out of the gate on Saturday, it was apparent that this Penn team was energized and willing to take risks. The Quakers struck first, just two-and-a-half minutes in, on their opening drive with a five-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a six-yard touchdown run from junior running back Brian Schoenauer.
While Penn would fail to score on the two-point conversion, it would take a 6-0 lead that the Quakers would never relinquish. On Cornell’s first offensive play of the game, Penn’s defense pressured Big Red quarterback Robert Somborn into an off-balance throw that sophomore linebacker Brandon Mills was able to intercept.
Five quick plays later, senior wide receiver Eric Fiore threw a 14-yard score to fellow senior tight end Ryan O’Malley on a trick play to give the Quakers a 13-point lead just five minutes into the game.
“Failure was not an option this week. That’s how these kids took it this week,” Priore said. “I thought it was one of our best weeks of practice. So focused yesterday in walkthrough, this morning you could hear a pin drop.”
A Cornell three-and-out. Another Penn score, this time a pass from junior quarterback Alek Torgersen to sophomore wide receiver Justin Watson. And by the end of the first quarter, the Quakers held a 20-point lead.
Watson was once again one of the offensive highlights for the Red and Blue. The sophomore wide receiver surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on the year with his seventh 100-yard game of the season.
The Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year typically ends up in the hands of a running back or quarterback, but Watson has made a legitimate case to be the first wide receiver to win the award since Brown receiver Buddy Farnham in 2009. The sophomore led the Ivy League with 108.2 receiving yards per game to go along with over 100 yards on the ground and 10 total touchdowns.
“It was coach [John] Reagan putting me in really good situations. He’d see something in the defense for me to take advantage of,” Watson said. “[Torgersen’s] done a great job of reading out the defense and not trying to force anything and finding me in good spots.”
While Cornell would attempt to battle back after falling behind in the first quarter, the Big Red were unable to consistently finish drives against a Penn defense that has held strong repeatedly this year. Cornell outgained the Quakers, 490-373, on the game, but threw a pair of interceptions and were forced to punt at the end of a handful of longer drives.
Penn’s offense and defense weren’t the only important aspects to the game though, as one of the biggest plays of the game came from junior kick returner Lonnie Tuff. After Cornell scored to bring the score to 20-7 in the second quarter, Tuff took the ensuing kickoff back 92 yards, reversing field masterfully, to set up a short field for Penn.
Torgersen took advantage, running it in from three yards out, and the Quakers never looked back. The junior quarterback added 195 passing yards and two passing touchdowns, both to Watson, to a performance that also saw him throw his first and only interception in conference play of the year. Torgersen finished the season with 19 passing touchdowns to just three interceptions and just under 2,000 yards.
For Penn’s seniors, this was the second title during their tenures and an excellent way to cap off an emotional season. The Quakers started the season 1-3, but had beaten then-No. 13 Villanova, when they traveled to Columbia for the first game of their season-ending, six-game winning streak.
“It’s surreal. I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet,” O’Malley said. “I was trying to take it all in on the field. To come out with two championships is special. Not a lot of people even get one.”
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