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Penn football defeats Columbia 21-7 Credit: Carolyn Lim , Carolyn Lim

Penn football has spoiled its fans the past few years.

For just the second time in the past five years, the Quakers (4-5, 3-3 Ivy) will not be Ivy League champions. As a result, many are deeming Saturday’s game meaningless.

But those who blithely dismiss Saturday’s matchup against Cornell are missing the bigger picture.

Just a few weeks ago, Kansas fans stormed the field, picked up the goalposts and threw them into a nearby lake to celebrate their first conference win in three years.

If Penn fans did that every time the Quakers won a game during the current seniors’ tenure, 24 field goal posts would be drifting down the Schuylkill. Go back another season for fifth-year players like Billy Ragone and that number skyrockets to 32.

But even without a title on the line, Saturday’s game still leaves a tremendous amount up for grabs.

The matchup is for the Trustee’s Cup and bragging rights in the 120th meeting between Penn and the Big Red (2-7, 1-5). The game represents a chance to finish the season .500 and with a winning record in Ivy League play.

More importantly, it’s to send the seniors and fifth-year players out with a win.

“You remember your last game, especially your last game at home,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “It’s the last time you wear that uniform and it sticks in your mind. It leaves an annullable impression and it’s something you’re going to cherish so you better play well.”

But it’s college athletics. Inevitably, Cornell has seniors playing their last game too, and one of them in particular haunted Penn during his last trip to Franklin Field.

Senior quarterback Jeff Mathews, whose status for Saturday is still up in the air after missing last weekend’s win over Columbia, threw for 548 of his Ivy-record 10,817 career passing yards and five touchdowns in Cornell’s 48-38 victory over the Quakers to end the 2011 season.

If Mathews is at the helm, Penn is preparing for a wide-open, spread offense that gives the NFL prospect four or five targets to look for every time he drops back.

Without him, the Big Red will play it conservative and look to the ground game. Last weekend in their 24-9 victory over the Lions, Cornell ran a season-high 51 times.

Penn’s own quarterback situation should be an interesting storyline. Saturday marks the end of the line for the Quakers’ two primary quarterbacks, Billy Ragone and Ryan Becker. Ragone is one of just three Penn quarterbacks to ever pass for 5,000 yards in his career, while Becker, a Florida State transfer, nearly led the team back from a 38-0 deficit last weekend.

Adding to Saturday’s intrigue is the evolving importance of Adam Strouss to the offense. The freshman dual-threat quarterback was instrumental to Penn’s attack last week, scoring on a pair of one-yard touchdown runs.

“It’s still going to be Ryan and Billy. We owe it to them in their last game,” Bagnoli said. “But Strouss is also a talented kid and we’re looking to him to make some plays.”

Regardless of playing time, it’s a game Ryan Becker will always cherish.

“It’s going to be great, especially going out there with Billy,” he said. “It’s going to be very emotional, especially after it’s all over.”

“[The seniors] are leaving a terrific legacy,” Bagnoli added. “They’re talented football players, but they’re also good kids that have been a lot of fun to be around.”

So before anyone writes off Saturday as meaningless, they should think twice and remember all that those graduating have done for the program.

Despite the tough year, the veteran Quakers have given all they’ve had to the school and each other.

“It’s about being a family,” Becker said. “We want to go out on top, together.”

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