Over the past year, the motto for Penn football has been, simply, “one more.”
In weight lifts, one more rep. In preseason drills and practice, one more yard. Heading into each contest as it has built a winning streak during Ivy League play, one more game.
Now, as the Quakers prepare for their final matchup of the season with an Ivy title on the line, the message remains the same: One more.
As Penn (6-3, 5-1 Ivy) welcomes Cornell (1-8, 1-6) to Franklin Field on Saturday, the Red and Blue have one mission on their collective minds: Beat the Big Red to clinch — at the very least — a share of the Ancient Eight championship. And despite having ended Harvard’s 22-game winning streak last weekend in Massachusetts, Penn is doing everything it can to treat this weekend like any other.
“There’s been a lot of energy,” senior defensive lineman Dan Connaughton said. “One thing that’s been apparent is that the coaches are trying to stress that it isn’t over until it’s over, anything can happen in one game.
“Cornell is a good team, they’re better than you would assume looking at their record. They can do some stuff, so it’s been — just like every other week this year — full of attention to detail and focus. ”
The key for the Red and Blue this weekend will undoubtedly be stopping Big Red senior running back Luke Hagy. The Pittsburgh native is second in the Ivies with 79 yards per game on the ground, yet has only racked up five touchdowns, tied for ninth in the conference.
According to Connaughton, Cornell brings to the table an offensive attack similar to that utilized by Princeton two weeks ago. In Penn’s thrilling overtime win two weeks ago, the squad held the Tigers — who average 174 yards per game on the ground — to fewer than four yards per carry.
Although the Quakers did give up two rushing scores that day, they will stick to what they’ve done throughout the year in their attempt to clinch the title against the Big Red this weekend.
“We can’t change the way we play just for this last game,” Connaughton said. “We’ve been winning games because of what we’ve done all season long and there’s no point in getting away from that now just because it’s a championship game or whatever.
“Three teams in the race, but we don’t want to be the one left out. That’s our mindset right now.”
If Penn, Harvard and Dartmouth all win on Saturday, the trio would share the Ancient Eight crown with one loss apiece. Because the Ivy League does not send a team to the Football Championship Subdivision Playoff, there is no need to delve into tiebreakers to determine one true champion. Therefore, one more win gets Penn the title.
Heading into the matchup with Cornell, the Quakers have the opportunity to complete an unexpected turnaround in coach Ray Priore’s first year at the helm. The Red and Blue were predicted to finish sixth in the preseason Ivy standings, ahead of only Cornell and Columbia.
But players and coaches alike believed all along that an opportunity like this was possible.
“I knew we had a shot to be good,” Connaughton said. “We had a players-only meeting at the beginning of the season and I told the team that we have a chance to do something special this year if we put the pieces together.
“Maybe I didn’t know it would be this special, but I knew we had talent.”
On both sides of the ball, the Quakers seem to be firing on all cylinders at this point in their season. Against the Crimson, sophomore wide receiver Justin Watson racked up 249 total yards en route to winning FCS Player of the Week while Penn’s defense held Harvard’s offense scoreless in the second half.
Now, the Quakers will need to continue their strong all-around play in order to grab that one more win.
“Being in this position, it’s one of those dreams come true,” Priore said. “If you’re in the profession long enough, you have a lot of goals.
“And those goals are now happening in getting this [coaching] position and then with our success this year.”
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