In a super-close game between two very evenly matched teams, it's no surprise that the Penn football team was separated from Harvard by just one point on Saturday. But this Floridian final margin of victory should not have been nearly as close as it was. In a game of missed opportunities -- of which Harvard kicker Robbie Wright's missed 33-yard field goal was but the last -- it was the inability of Penn's offense to capitalize on five Crimson turnovers that nearly cost the home team a win and a shot at the Ivy title this Saturday. Despite forcing four second-half turnovers -- including an astounding three on Harvard's first three plays of the second half -- the Quakers could only net a solitary field goal from these gifts. The problem? Penn's high-octane offense seemed to sputter when given great field position after a Harvard turnover. "I don't know how to describe these games," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "Both teams had tremendous opportunities -- we went three straight possessions in the second half forcing turnovers, and we only got three points out of it." In the first four minutes of the second half, Penn took possession at the Crimson 14, 38 and 28 -- thanks to an interception by Travis Belden and fumble recoveries by Dan Morris and Chris Pennington. On those three prime scoring opportunities, the Quakers did not find the end zone once. And in this crazy Ivy League that is the highest-scoring conference in Division I-AA, that kind of turnover-to-points ratio just isn't going to cut it. "We couldn't even capitalize on 50 percent of them," Bagnoli said in disbelief. "At that point, you say you know they're going to score some points because they're a good offensive team, so you know you have to do something." Perhaps Harvard's defense toughened whenever it was backed against the wall in its own end of the field. Perhaps it was a fluke that the Quakers completed only three-of-six passes for 15 yards, rushed two times for only six yards and suffered both a sack and an illegal procedure penalty on those three series to start the second frame. But whatever factors were at work, Penn was severely handicapped by the fact that it could not take advantage of all the opportunities that presented themselves. "We kept plugging away at it," Penn quarterback Gavin Hoffman said. "And they were a good defense. And you can't get too down just because they started making some plays." Granted, the Quakers did keep plugging away and came up with yet another last-drive winning touchdown, but in the process, they made the game far too interesting. This was never more evident than on Penn's second-to-last drive. Starting at the Harvard 30-yard line courtesy of a Fred Plaza interception, the Quakers went three-and-out. Three incompletions and an unforgivable delay-of-game penalty nearly tossed Penn out of the title hunt. "Obviously, I felt coming in that the turnover ratio would be the most important statistic," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. "I thought our defense overall played extremely hard. Nothing came easy for the Penn offense. "And despite [the turnovers], we still put ourselves in position to win." And one of the ways that the Crimson put themselves in a position to win was by turning both Penn turnovers into points. In the first quarter, Harvard's Ben Butler picked off a Gavin Hoffman pass and ran it back 54 yards for a touchdown. And in the third quarter, following a Dante Balestracci interception, the Crimson found the end zone four plays later to go up 35-27. True enough, on their second scoring drive of the day, the Quakers did show that they could turn turnovers into points. After Plaza recovered a fumble at the Harvard 16-yard-line, Ben Zagorski caught a touchdown pass three plays later to tie the score at 14. But coming away without a single touchdown after four second-half turnovers -- the average starting position was 27 yards from the end zone -- is a problem the Quakers obviously want to rectify. "There were a couple of times where we had opportunities to make the really big play and to turn the ball over, but we didn't capitalize on that," said Penn cornerback Joey Alofaituli, who was second on the Quakers with six tackles. "It was too close." In the end, though, Penn did win. Penn's defense did force five turnovers, which is something any coach would be proud of. Hoffman did pass for 394 yards, and Penn's offense did hold the ball for a dominating 39 minutes. And the Quakers did not allow their inability to convert in the third quarter affect their performance with the game on the line. But on the other side of the equation, the Quakers must realize that when they head to Cornell on Saturday, they will need to capitalize on every chance they get, and not again make the mistake of letting post-turnover opportunities slip away.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.