BOSTON – The streak is over. Again.
On a windy Saturday in Cambridge, Mass., Penn football defeated No. 12 Harvard, 35-25, for its first win against the conference foe since 2012, snapping the Crimson’s 22-game winning streak. The win, which moves the Quakers into a tie for first place in the Ivy League, comes less than two months after the Red and Blue knocked off Villanova for the first time in 104 years.
Penn (6-3, 5-1 Ivy) outscored Harvard (8-1, 5-1) in three of four quarters and featured strong play all around. But the star of the game was Justin Watson, who had 249 yards from scrimmage and two long touchdowns. The win puts coach Ray Priore’s team in position to clinch a share of the Ancient Eight title next week at home against Cornell, which picked up its first win of the season on Saturday.
On the Quakers’ first possession of the game, they moved down the field quickly, courtesy of a pass from junior quarterback Alek Torgersen to Watson for a 30-yard gain — one that was amplified by a late hit penalty. On the next play from the Crimson’s 10, Torgersen ran up the middle on a quarterback draw, breaking a tackle to reach the end zone.
After a weak 21-yard punt gave Penn strong field position, a pass to freshman wide receiver Christian Pearson along the right sideline put the Quakers at the Harvard 25. Three plays later, a pass interference penalty on the Crimson set up the Red and Blue at the two. After an incomplete fade pass to Watson, Torgersen ran up the middle into the end zone on a keeper to make it 14-0.
With 350 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground this season, Torgersen has proven himself willing to run the ball when needed. In fact, he enjoys it.
“It’s a lot of fun being able to run the ball on the goal line and punch it in,” he said. “Obviously there are a lot of plays before that get you to that point, but I like taking the ball and trying to deliver hits to people.”
The Crimson were quick to respond, as returner Justice Shelton-Mosley ran back the kickoff to the Penn 17. A screen to wide receiver Andrew Fischer placed Harvard at the three-yard line, who then scored on a short pass to tight end Anthony Firkser.
However, the Quakers were quick to grab back the momentum. On the third play of the subsequent drive, Torgersen spotted a wide-open Watson, who had burned past safety Scott Peters. The sophomore wide receiver caught a perfect pass in stride and ran it in for a 68-yard touchdown to make it 21-6 before the first quarter had even ended.
After Harvard punched it in on a 14-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Seitu Smith II to cut the Penn lead to 21-13, the Crimson got the ball back, and running back Semar Smith — brother of Seitu— ran it in from 15 yards out to pull the defending Ivy champs within two.
Penn responded by going three-and-out, and Harvard blocked sophomore Hunter Kelley’s punt. On their first and only play of the drive, the Crimson ran a trick play, letting Shelton-Mosley air it out for a 28-yard touchdown pass to Firkser. Harvard took a 25-21 lead into halftime after its two-point conversion attempt was no good.
“We’ve been saving that one for a while,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Having said that, they defended it well. It was quite an amazing throw by a non-quarterback.”
The Quakers opened the second half with a bang, as junior defensive back Lonnie Tuff took a squib kick up to the Harvard 39. A screen to Watson and run up the middle by sophomore Tre Solomon resulted in a first down, setting up Torgersen’s 28-yard strike to senior tight end Ryan Kelly that gave Penn a 28-25 lead.
After a Red and Blue turnover-on-downs at the Harvard 45 supplied the Crimson with excellent starting field position, Harvard drove all the way to the Penn 10 before opting on fourth-and-one to attempt a game-tying field goal. Just a week after Penn blocked a game-winning attempt versus Princeton, the special teams came up big once again and blocked the kick.
Torgersen then picked up a first down on a scramble before a false start penalty followed by a sack gave the Quakers second-and-21 at their own 21. But a sweep to Watson was all Penn needed, as Watson cut to the right sideline and was off to the races for a 79-yard score, giving the Red and Blue a 35-25 advantage it wouldn’t relinquish.
“It was really just the standard outside run; we do it all the time,” Watson said. “That was the best I’ve ever seen it blocked. There are guys on the ground, [senior wide receiver] Cam [Countryman] pushed a guy all the way out to the sidelines. It was really just get to the outside and run straight up.”
As has been the theme for much of the year, the Penn defense was clutch late in the game. While the Crimson drove down the field to try and make it a one-score game, a Semar Smith fumble deep in Quakers’ territory was recovered by senior safety Ian Dobbins with 3:28 left in the contest.
From that point on, the main goal turned to icing the game. Hunter Kelley’s punt traveled a whopping 63 yards to the Harvard three, and senior defensive back Dylan Muscat sealed the win by picking off Harvard quarterback Scott Hosch.
Priore noted the second-half comeback is nothing new for the Quakers, as the team had trailed in all five games of its longest winning streak since 2010.
“The poise reflects right down from the coaches to the kids,” Priore said. “I was really most proud about the kids, how they stayed focused.”
Now, with one game remaining in the season, Penn’s game against Cornell next weekend means one thing: A win equals an Ivy title.
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