This weekend, Penn football will be looking to three-peat in more ways that one — in fact, they'll be looking to three-peat in three ways.
On Saturday, the Red and Blue will look to pick up their third straight conference win as they travel to Boston, aiming to take down Harvard for the third time in three years. With luck, the Quakers (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) will also stay in contention for their third straight Ivy League title.
Penn's last win came in particularly spectacular fashion, as the Red and Blue took down heavily favored Princeton on homecoming, 38-35.
For star wide receiver Justin Watson, the thrilling (three-point) win was underscored by a record-breaking performance, as the senior broke the record for most receptions in Penn history. Watson, though, was quick to defer credit for his playmaking.
“Guys are getting comfortable stepping up and making big plays, and we’re just going to keep building on that,” Watson said.
This burgeoning of confidence and momentum couldn’t arrive at a better time. Coach Ray Priore noted that Penn's opponents tend to hit their stride late in conference play — and that to succeed, his squad must hold serve.
"At this time of year, you have to start playing your best football," the third-year coach said.
“We just need to make sure we play tough and do our job, and the rest will figure itself out,” junior Nick Miller added.
Miller has been a bright spot amid an otherwise difficult season for the Penn defense. Although the linebacker — coming off a second-team All-Ivy nod in 2016 — leads the Ancient Eight in tackles with 82, his unit's 28.6 points allowed per game is second-worst in the conference, besting only Ivy-winless Brown.
"Takeaways — we have to start getting more balls on turnovers," Priore said. "It's not what other teams do; it's what we do to defend them. Each week is a different challenge."
Though the Quakers have had defensive struggles, their Watson-powered offense has been solid: the team ranks third in the Ivies in both touchdowns scored and yards per game.
Harvard has shown opposite strengths: though the Crimson rank below the Quakers in team offense, their defense has excelled, forcing the second most sacks and interceptions in the Ivy League.
If the Quakers’ preparation pays off Saturday, they might still be in the running for the Ivy League Championship; a scenario exists in which seven squads can tie for the crown at 4-3 in conference play. However, among other things, top-ranked Yale must drop their last two games in order for that to be a possibility.
However, Priore, Watson and Miller were quick to emphasize the team's "One More" motto. Rather than speculate, the team is planning for the task at hand: Miller discussed Harvard's offensive formations while Watson confirmed Penn’s commitment to an aggressive yet varied offense.
“We’re just worried about what we can control,” Watson said.
“The only thing on our minds right now is 'beat Harvard,'" Miller added.
And for the last two seasons, the Quakers have done just that. In 2015, the Quakers went to Boston and snapped Harvard's 22-game winning streak on the strength of 249 yards of offense from Watson. The star wideout played hero again in the team's matchup a year ago, reeling in a last-minute go-ahead catch to keep Penn in Ivy championship contention.
This year, in Watson's penultimate career game, Penn will hope he can summon that magic once again.
“It should be a fun one,” Watson said.
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