Three road games, two home games and a potential Ivy title. That’s all that’s left for Penn football as it moves into the second half of the 2016 campaign.
First up on that list is Yale. Friday night, once again in front of a nationally televised audience on NBC Sports, the Quakers (3-2, 2-0 Ivy) will have a chance to remove all doubt that they are among the frontrunners to take the Ancient Eight crown.
“I think a lot of us get more pumped up on Friday nights, it takes us back to our high school days,” senior quarterback Alek Torgersen said. “We don’t get to do it very often, especially being under the lights — it kind of brings out the best in us.”
To be fair, this is not the Yale of old. The Elis (1-4, 1-1) won’t be winning their 15th conference title this year.
Still reeling from having graduated the heart of last year’s lineup, Yale has struggled to take control of games this season. Thus far in 2016, the Bulldogs have beaten only a vulnerable Dartmouth squad while giving up 55, 63 and 44 points to Colgate, Lehigh and Fordham, respectively.
While Yale may not this year be in the same class as the Ivy heavyweights to come — Princeton and Harvard are just around the corner — Friday night represents a big step for the Quakers into the heart of the Ivy slate.
After dropping the first two games of the year, the Red and Blue have stormed to three straight wins, most recently a 35-10 rout of Columbia. Perhaps most importantly, last weekend’s contest was the first where Penn coach Ray Priore’s squad really ground a game out in the second half instead of putting an opponent away early.
“I thought our kids responded really, really well,” Priore said. “We narrowed things down to a handful of plays, our kids came back in the second half very, very focused and, obviously, able to finish.”
They’ll need to rely on their star power in order to have a shot at a second consecutive Ivy title, and against Columbia they got some flashes of what the rest of the Ancient Eight could have to deal with.
Junior wide receiver Justin Watson had his best game since the season-opener against Lehigh, logging 114 yards and a touchdown on six catches while rushing for another 45.
His classmate, running back Tre Solomon, leapt and bruised his way to 127 yards on the ground with a touchdown — on top of a 23-yard touchdown pass he threw to senior wideout Cam Countryman. For his efforts, Solomon was named Ivy League Co-Offensive Player of the Week, the first Penn player to win the award since Watson did it on Nov. 16, 2015.
In addition to the storylines on the field, the field itself is its own story. Friday night will be the first night game in the history of the 102-year-old Yale Bowl. In fact, the stadium does not even have lights. An outside contractor will be bringing in temporary lighting to the stadium for the purposes of this weekend.
This marks the third straight Penn-Yale game to air on NBCSN, with the Bulldogs winning in 2014 and the Quakers taking 2015’s Friday night edition. The increased frequency of these NBCSN games have been something of a welcome development for the Red and Blue.
“I think Friday nights are something we look forward to,” Priore said. “We like the short weeks too, for some reason. We prepare better — I don’t know why, even though we have less time. Just more focus and attention to detail throughout the week.”
With the Quakers ready on short rest, the lights will go up — literally — in New Haven on Friday. From there, the nation will get yet another chance to see the Quake Show in action. And so far, it looks like things are trending Penn’s way.
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