Before Saturday’s Ivy opener against Dartmouth, the 100-plus players on the Penn roster stood side-by-side on the home hash marks.
The Big Green gathered for a moment of discussion and then made a telling counter-move, stepping out from their sideline to mirror the defending Ivy champions. Their message was clear.
“We came to play,” Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens said after his team’s hard-fought 35-28 overtime loss.
It was a game that should set off alarms in the minds of each of those 100-plus Quakers in the locker room. The grizzled Penn coaching staff surely warned its players about the challenges of defending their title, but Saturday, the Quakers experienced them first-hand.
“[The coaches] told us since the beginning of the season that we’re gonna get everyone’s best shot, and it just comes down to a couple plays,” said senior linebacker Zach Heller. “We’ve got to be ready for a dogfight like this every Ivy game.”
Penn got its first dogfight from a new and improved Dartmouth team that nearly pulled off a major upset. Teevens made several gutsy calls, as the Big Green converted four of five fourth-down attempts and set up one of their touchdowns by converting a fake field goal for a new set of downs.
While a noticeably disappointed Teevens said he would have taken those gambles on any team, Penn coach Al Bagnoli saw them as an indication of what teams will try to do against the Quakers this season.
“When you’re the champion, this is how people are going to play you,” said Bagnoli, whose teams have repeated as Ivy champions twice during his eighteen-year career.
“You really have nothing to lose. You’re on the road against the champions; you let everything hang out [and] you take some chances.”
But while Bagnoli may be familiar with the position his team is in, none of his players have ever been through the rigors of a season following a League title.
While the game may not have been pretty, Penn’s eventual win may have actually been more impressive than a heavyweight-flexing-its-muscles blowout victory. This was the type of game defending champions are faced with week after week.
“They were high coming in, and this was kind of like their Super Bowl playing against us, the defending champs,” sophomore quarterback Billy Ragone said. “We came out and took some punches.”
And Bagnoli’s bunch better be ready to take some more from Ivy teams, who certainly will take notice of the vulnerability Dartmouth exposed in Penn. The Red and Blue’s top-ranked defense from 2009 allowed 239 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and Ragone showed his youth with two costly interceptions.
According to Teevens, the Ivy title door is “wide open.”
“Every year they have the preseason [poll] and nobody’s ever right,” he said. “It’s just who can stay healthy, who plays hard, who’s believing through the duration [of the season].”
That’s the reason the concept of the ‘championship hangover’ exists.
“Every once in a while you’ve got to win games like this,” said an exhausted Bagnoli, who spoke of heading home and relaxing for the night before worrying about correcting his team’s mistakes again. “These overtime games beat the hell out of you.”
BRIAN KOTLOFF is a junior communications major from Elkins Park, Pa. He can be contacted at email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.