ITHACA, N.Y. -- This time, there was no need to score late-game touchdowns or hope that last-minute field goal attempts would sail wide. After enduring a season of miraculous finishes to keep the Red and Blue in the thick of the Ivy League title hunt, the Penn football team did exactly what it needed to do early and often in its final battle for Ancient Eight bragging rights against a comeback-happy Cornell squad -- score touchdowns. With their convincing, 45-15 blasting of the Big Red (5-5, 5-2 Ivy League) in frosty Ithaca, N.Y., on Saturday, the Quakers (7-3, 6-1) proved that they deserved to be the Ivy League champions for the second time in three years and became the first team to win a game for the outright title in the final week of the season since 1991. "I thought that we played the best game we've played all year," a smiling Penn coach Al Bagnoli said, "and we picked a pretty good time to do it." In their opening five drives on chilly Schoellkopf Field, the Quakers charged into the end zone four times while holding Cornell to just one touchdown, giving Penn a tenuous 28-7 halftime lead. Facing a Big Red team that had already managed five come-from-behind victories in the season, the Quakers knew their 21-point advantage was hardly enough to start celebrating. Cornell had come back from bigger deficits already, reversing a 28-0 halftime deficit at Harvard earlier in the year. "Going into halftime, all we kept on talking about was how Cornell was the whole year coming from behind," Penn senior cornerback and defensive co-captain Joey Alofaituli said. "Coming out the second half we knew we had to keep fighting and just be relentless. They were thinking they were going to come from behind, regardless, because that's how they've been playing all year. But we just made sure we put our foot down and played strong." Penn did that on both sides of the ball, adding two more touchdowns and a field goal while blanking Cornell's offense until the Big Red snuck in a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. By that time, however, both teams knew whose captains would be hoisting the Ivy League Trophy above their heads. "[Penn] made the plays, they did a tremendous job, they played an outstanding game and you can't take anything away from what they did," Cornell coach Pete Mangurian said. "We would have had to play exceptionally well to win [with] the way they were playing. The credit goes to them for doing the things you need to do to win a championship." One of those things was stopping the Big Red's offense on the Quakers' goal line with four minutes to go in the third quarter. Penn's defense did it not just once, but twice. In a third-and-goal situation with Cornell poised on the four-yard line, Big Red quarterback Ricky Rahne targeted fullback Nathan Archer just inches from the end zone. All Archer had to do was take one step backward in order to bring the score to 28-13 and give his team some hope for a comeback. Standing in the way, though, was Penn safety Hasani White, who nailed Archer with a hard shot to send the Cornell fullback flying to the turf without a touchdown. The Big Red decided to go for it on the ensuing fourth-and-inches play and prepared to run a quarterback sneak they had seen work against the Red and Blue before. "We saw Brown run it [against Penn three weeks ago] and they had some success on it," Mangurian said. "We were in a formation that overloaded the defense and pulled it to one side, and Penn did something we didn't expect them to. They stacked everybody up right in the middle of the formation." Rahne tried to jump through a crack in the wall of white Penn jerseys after the snap, but he was smacked right at the line of scrimmage by Quakers nose tackle Chris Moen to end the Big Red drive without a score. "It was a big play," Bagnoli said. "Obviously anytime you can keep the other guy from scoring, it takes a little bit of momentum away from them." The offensive momentum of the game was almost entirely in Penn's favor, despite the fact that the Red and Blue failed to score in the third quarter. So many Quakers had offensive milestones and records to reach in the final game of the season -- as well as with the Ivy title on the line -- it's no wonder the numbers on the Penn side of the scoreboard kept changing. With nine points on the day, Quakers kicker Jason Feinberg became Penn's all-time leading scorer with 218 career points. Penn wide receiver Rob Milanese had nine catches and 117 yards against Cornell to claim Red and Blue season records in receptions (76) and receiving yards (936). Penn quarterback Gavin Hoffman -- who lit up Cornell for 330 yards -- broke the 3,000-yard passing plateau while leading the Quakers to the championship to finish with 3,214 yards on the season, as well as his eighth game this year throwing for over 300 yards. And Penn running back Kris Ryan, who had been battling injuries all season, returned to form as the Ivy League's leading rusher in 1999 by rushing for 243 yards and four touchdowns to tie his career record for touchdowns in a game. "I knew I just had to come out and play hard," Ryan said. "I didn't put any expectations on myself. [I] just came out and played hard and tried to get a ring -- and that's what we did."Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.