As Harvard kicker Robbie Wright's wobbly 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 10 seconds left on the game clock, the Penn football team rushed the field, jubilantly releasing a season's worth of tension. The Quakers had just stolen their third consecutive come-from-behind victory by the narrowest of margins, escaping from Franklin Field with a 36-35 win which keeps them squarely in control of their own destiny in their quest for the Ivy League title. Penn's (6-3, 5-1 Ivy League) dramatic triumph over Harvard (5-4, 4-2) means the Quakers remain in a first-place tie with next week's opponent Cornell, whose own comeback win over Columbia sets up a final week showdown for the Ancient Eight crown in Ithaca, N.Y. Junior quarterback Gavin Hoffman continued his assault on the Penn passing record books, leading an offense that for most of the afternoon was as crisp as the cold November wind blowing in from the northwest. Already the most prolific passer in Quakers history heading into Saturday's contest, Hoffman completed 34-of-47 pass attempts for 394 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner to Rob Milanese with one minute and 24 seconds left to play. Hoffman spread the ball to nine different receivers, finding tight end Ben Zagorski 10 times for 125 yards and a touchdown and Milanese eight times for 84 yards -- capped off by the 16-yard game-clincher. Running back Kris Ryan added 74 yards rushing and a touchdown on 25 carries. Penn took an uncomfortable 24-21 lead into the locker room at halftime, despite controlling the ball for more than 23 minutes in the first half. Harvard scored all 21 of its first-half points in less than a minute, collectively. On Harvard's first play from scrimmage, Carl Morris took junior quarterback Neil Rose's short pass 77 yards for a touchdown after a missed tackle by cornerback Joey Alofaituli. Just two minutes later, the Crimson took a 14-7 lead on Ben Butler's 54-yard interception return. Penn appeared to have righted its ship once lineman Kevin Martin forced a Rose fumble. Penn cornerback Fred Plaza pounced on the loose ball at the Harvard 16-yard line. Three plays later, Hoffman threw his first touchdown pass of the day -- a 13-yard strike to Zagorski. The momentum swung clearly to the Quakers' side after a nine-play, 72-yard scoring drive to open the second quarter put the Red and Blue up 21-14. But again, the Crimson broke a big play to check Penn's steady offensive surge. Tailback Nick Palazzo burst through the line of scrimmage and a host of would-be Penn tacklers for a 66-yard touchdown scamper, tying the score at 21. Penn kicker Jason Feinberg chipped in an 18-yard field goal to put the Quakers up 24-21 at the half. In the third quarter, however, the Penn offense flagged, failing to convert on consecutive Harvard fumbles deep in Crimson territory. Harvard started its second and third drives with fumbles on first down, but Penn went three-and-out after the first fumble recovery, and Feinberg missed a 44-yard field goal into a 17 mile-per-hour headwind. Imbued with new life, Rose subsequently drove Harvard 73 yards, completing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Chris Stakich for a 28-27 lead. After freshman linebacker Dante Balestracci returned a Hoffman interception to the Penn 29-yard line, Rose found Morris for another touchdown, this one a 26-yard catch on fourth down and seven. But Penn's defense stifled the Crimson in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of costly Harvard penalties and allowing only one third-down conversion on five attempts in the quarter. Penn took the ball at the Harvard 48-yard line after a Crimson punt with 1:36 left in the game. Hoffman wasted no time conjuring up memories of comebacks past, first completing a 32-yard pass to Jason Battung and then finding Milanese for a 36-35 lead. The two-point conversion failed, leaving Harvard a window to spoil the Quakers' Homecoming with even a field goal. And it almost happened. Rose drove the Crimson 69 yards to the Penn 11-yard line with 54 seconds to go. But a false start and three incomplete passes left the Crimson with a fourth-and-15 with 15 seconds left, forcing Harvard coach Tim Murphy to send out freshman kicker Wright for a 33-yarder into the wind. "[Kicking] is far from a strength," said Murphy, whose kickers have converted just three of 12 field goal attempts this season. "We tried to not have to do that today." But after Wright's attempt missed badly and Hoffman took a knee to run out the clock, Penn players and fans breathed a collective sigh of relief, with students spilling out of the stands onto the Franklin Field turf and the newly-fortified west goal posts. It's just as well the goal posts refused to come down, because only a Penn victory at Cornell this Saturday can win Ivy laurels for the Quakers. News and Notes Feinberg's 12 points on the day moved him to 209 for his career, as he passed former Dartmouth kicker Dennis Durkin to become the leading scorer among kickers in Ivy history. He is one behind running back Brian Keys' Penn career points record of 210... Rose broke the Harvard single-season record for passing yards.Comments powered by Disqus
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