It may just be Central Connecticut State, but the Quakers, who are rolling after taking down Dartmouth for the first time since 2013, are approaching Saturday’s contest like it’s any other game.
“In our progression they’re game number four,” coach Ray Priore said. “It really doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”
The game, which will be at Franklin Field on Saturday at noon, will be key in building on the momentum that the Red and Blue (1-2, 1-0 Ivy) established during last Friday’s win over their Ivy League foes in New Hampshire.
“We gotta keep the same mindset as last week,” sophomore defensive back Mason Williams emphasized. “Everyone was all like, ‘It’s our first league game so we really gotta play well,’ but for us the mindset is ‘we gotta play well every single week.’”
A win against the Blue Devils (1-3, 0-1 NEC) will go a long way towards building confidence heading into the onslaught of six straight Ivy League contests to finish the season. In the Ancient Eight, there are no bye weeks, and there are no easy victories, so any extra boost an out-of-conference win can add is welcome by Penn.
“People don’t understand how hard it is to win in this league,” senior quarterback Alek Torgersen explained.
“Coming off this win we’re pretty excited,” he added. “We’ve seen what we can do as a team. We put together four quarters of a good game finally. We’re trying to maintain that energy level.”
Of course, the difference in the win over Dartmouth was 60 minutes of sound defensive play, something that had been lacking in the first two games of the season.
With the graduation of 2015 Ivy League defensive player of the year Tyler Drake, there was a hole in the middle of the defense at linebacker. After their first two losses, the Quakers were still looking for someone to fill the void.
Last Friday, Connor Jangro filled that void. The freshman linebacker from Jessup, Md., who sports the same No. 49 jersey that Drake used to wear, was phenomenal in the first Ivy League game of his young career. His seven tackles were a season high and good enough to earn the conference’s freshman of the week honors.
But, while the Dartmouth game was the first time that it all came together for the Quakers, Priore looks back to the previous week for the moment his defense started to click.
“If you look at the second quarter of Fordham we made that turn,” he said. “We had that great goal line stand that got us going.”
Since then, Penn has played six excellent quarters of aggressive football. Turnovers, and big plays have been a key component of that shift.
“We want picks; we want fumbles. We want fourth down stops, three and outs. We want blocked kicks, safeties if we can get them.” Williams said. “So you know we’re always keeping that mindset open throughout the whole week of practice.”
That ferocious level play is what won the Red and Blue a share of the Ivy League championship last year. Their road to the title began when then-junior Donald Panciello blocked a potential game-winning field goal by Princeton as time expired last November.
Returning to that brand of football is what got them a safety last weekend, and ultimately the win. The Quakers knew they could go out and execute in that same fashion, even if they hadn’t done it as much as they had hoped in weeks one and two.
“We know what we can do. We know what we’re capable of,” Torgersen said. “If we just keep pushing limits, pushing what we can do and executing as best as we can, we’re gonna keep driving in this Ivy League right now.”
A win against Central Connecticut State won’t affect the Ivy League standings, but it’s still a part of the campaign and a piece of the journey towards a league title.
With Dartmouth out of the way it’ll be easy to look ahead to Harvard and a chance to move closer to sole possession of the championship. But for now, it’s just game number four, and all that matters is Saturday afternoon.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.