CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — If there’s a difference between this year’s Penn squad and last year’s Ivy champs, it’s one thing — performing in the clutch.
Whether it’s their inability to get going on the ground, make the big stops or finish a big special teams play, Penn has consistently failed to come through.
“We made it interesting, but we couldn’t just quite finish it,” coach Al Bagnoli said after losing to Harvard.
That pretty much sums up Penn’s season — the Quakers made things interesting in 2013, but simply didn’t show up to finish.
The downward spiral started after Penn went on the road and was shut out by a Brown team not nearly as good as the Quakers made them look. Now that the Quakers are officially out of Ivy title contention, the question remains: How did Penn let a 3-0 conference start vanish?
Maybe the Quakers disappeared first. They did when they got outscored 21-3 in the second half against Princeton. And they definitely did in their very next half of football Saturday, when they somehow dug themselves a 31-0 hole.
Add Harvard’s third-quarter touchdown and that’s a four-and-a-half quarter stretch in which Penn got outscored by Princeton and Harvard, 59-3.
It’s disappointing to watch a team that had so much potential not perform in the stretches it needs to, but the issue was bigger than on-field play.
Penn’s leaders haven’t inspired this team for a full 60 minutes all season, which is unacceptable given the number of players that have already put in a championship effort on this squad.
On Saturday, Harvard made mince-meat of the Red and Blue, putting up 38 consecutive points without allowing Penn to even get near the red zone for nearly three quarters and nearing the Quakers’ 84 total rushing yards in the afternoon on quarterback Conner Hempel’s back alone.
“They executed great … it’s a funny game when these two teams play,” Bagnoli said. “Fortunately, our kids never gave up because it had a chance to get pretty ugly there.”
Had a chance? It did get ugly.
This game shouldn’t be written off as a moral victory, which it perhaps should have been had it come at the beginning of Ivy play. It’d be a moral victory if it Penn didn’t have such an outstanding number of past Ivy championship players already in place. It’d be a moral victory if this game wasn’t part of such a historic rivalry.
But none of the above holds true.
It’s frustrating to watch a team waste a second-half performance on the road after crumbling against Princeton in front of one of its largest crowds in a long time.
Where was the 30-point scoring spree then?
It’s even harder to watch losses like these after winning one of the most exciting games in conference history earlier this season. Bagnoli even commented about the meaning of that quadruple-overtime win over Dartmouth early in the season.
“When the smoke clears and we get a chance to look back at this game, maybe we’ll say this was one of the games of 2013,” Bagnoli said after the win. “It could be a very defining game for the 2013 season.”
And it wasn’t. It was a highlight of the 2013 season, no doubt, but it was the exception, not the rule.
Leaders have failed to step up on and off the field to juice up this team from kickoff to the final whistle, and it has shown in glaring fashion these past three losses.
“It’s the second to last game of the season, you’ve gotta give it all you’ve got,” fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Becker said.
But that sentiment certainly did not show in the Red and Blue’s play through 35 minutes of competition. As Penn looks forward to Cornell and the conclusion of the 2013 season, all Penn’s got will have to be a lot more, even though it’s already too late.
JIMMY LENGYEL is a College sophomore from Pensacola, Fla. and an associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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