ITHACA, N.Y. — The Quakers have their own method. It’s not pretty and it’s certainly not simple, but it did lead them to their third outright Ivy League title in four years.
Saturday, Penn defeated Cornell, 35-28, as Andrew Holland replaced an injured Billy Ragone in his first start and final collegiate game to lead the Quakers (6-4, 6-1 Ivy) to sole possession of the Ivy championship.
And he did it in what’s become the prototypical style of this year’s team.
With three minutes left to play, Steve Lias was heading 80 yards down the sideline, his interception all but clinching the outright title for the Quakers.
But back at the other end of the field, a yellow flag was lying on the ground near the 15-yard line, lost in the drama of the moment.
Personal foul on the defense: roughing the passer. Automatic first down and new life for Cornell (4-6, 2-5).
What would have been Penn ball at the Cornell 12 suddenly became a first-and- goal for Cornell at the Penn 8. One touchdown run and a two-point conversion later, the game was tied with 2:57 to go.
The Red and Blue had been on cruise control just 10 minutes earlier with a 28-13 advantage after scoring 21 unanswered points. Just four plays before, Cornell had faced a do-or-die fourth and 10.
“We were really one play away from really being able to wind the clock down,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “We were never able to get that final play.”
While Cornell knotted up the contest, over in Boston, Harvard had just scored what ended up being its game-winning touchdown over Yale. Harvard would have shared the Ivy crown with Penn had the Quakers lost.
Cornell gift-wrapped a kickoff for the Red and Blue with a squib kick — a decision Cornell coach Kent Austin later described as “a mistake” — and Penn took over at its own 37. Holland picked up 48 yards through the air and Lyle Marsh ran for 12 more to set up a first and goal at the 3-yard line. Spencer Kulcsar took the handoff, went left and punched into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Penn was back on top, and following the kickoff, Cornell had 56 seconds, one timeout and 72 yards to go. Barring a defensive lapse, the Red and Blue looked poised to capture the title.
But this was Jeff Mathews under center — the man who burned Penn for an Ivy League-record 548 yards a year ago. Forty seconds later, on a first-and-20, he aired one out deep and found Luke Tasker 51 yards downfield to put Cornell at the Penn 8.
“They scared the living hell out of you,” Bagnoli said.
Overtime seemed inevitable. But on the ensuing play, Cornell was flagged for a 15-yard chop-block penalty, which pushed the Big Red back to the 23. With time for one last play, Mathews found Kurt Ondash, but he was dragged down at the 8-yard line as the clock wound down to triple-zeros.
Following the win, senior captain Brandon Copeland summed up not just the fourth quarter, but Penn’s season.
“It wouldn’t be us if we didn’t make it interesting.”
Copeland added that this attitude makes this team different from the championship squads from two or three years ago.
“After that loss to Yale, we all sat in the locker room,” Copeland said. “Jeff Jack said, ‘We’ve won championships outright before, we’ve swept the Ivy League two times, but this one would be that much sweeter if we could come back and run the table from there on out.’”
The Red and Blue didn’t expect to lose to Yale, which finished last in the league this year with its only Ivy win coming against Penn. They didn’t expect to lose Ragone for the final game of the season. And they certainly didn’t expect to let their 15-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter. But each time, the Quakers found a way to rebound.
Most championship teams have a moment of adversity— a moment when the team manages to fight back.
This season, the Quakers had a plethora of those moments. And they fought back every time.
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