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Looking to rebound from a tough loss to Princeton, senior quarterback Alek Torgersen will lead Penn football against Harvard on Friday.

Credit: Zach Sheldon | Associate Photo Editor

“We’re capable of performing a lot better.”

Penn football coach Ray Priore didn’t mince words when he assessed his team’s performance in their 28-0 loss at Princeton last weekend. But he also felt bullish about the Quakers’ upcoming date with destiny against Harvard.

“Our kids are gonna play hard, play with great emotion and execute.”

The Ivy League title is on the line for Penn (5-3, 4-1 Ivy). The loss to Princeton left Harvard (7-1, 5-0) alone as the only undefeated team in conference play with just two games to go, and it’ll be the Quakers’ role to play spoiler when the Crimson rolls into Franklin Field on Friday evening.

That’ll be easier said than done, though, as the Red and Blue are in the middle of a poor run of form. The defense let up 28 against Princeton on Saturday, and the offense hasn’t scored in six quarters. It’s not difficult to see that if those trends continue, Penn will have no chance of securing another share of the Ivy title.

But the players are convinced things will change.

“We’ve been held scoreless for six quarters,” senior quarterback Alek Torgersen said. “So we’ll come out with a lot of fire and energy. Our egos are a little hurt after the last game, because we didn’t do our job as an offense. We’re gonna start fast.”

A better start for Torgersen than his game against Princeton is likely, as the quarterback had a day to forget, to put it lightly.

The senior quarterback admitted himself that his performance against the Tigers wasn’t his best effort or the best show of his decision-making abilities. In sports, those days happen — and that’s how Torgersen summed it up.

“It was just one of those days. It kind of just feels like a dream to me now, honestly. Just thinking about Saturday, it feels like, ‘that happened...’ I can’t believe that.”

As for the defense, junior Louis Vecchio is confident that last week’s performance also won’t be repeated.

“There’s definitely a bright side to that game after watching the film,” the defensive end said. “We had everybody in the right spots. Honestly, it was just that we were there to make the play, but we didn’t end up making those plays. We just have to stay positive, keep our confidence up.”

The Quakers haven’t had many games without a sack or a forced turnover in recent memory. If Vecchio is right in his assessment of the team’s defense, then they should come up with a big play or two against Harvard. And in case sheer persistence alone doesn’t provide that result, he also mentioned an extra motivation to drive his team on further.

“Harvard, we just don’t like them,” Vecchio said. “We do have in mind that the championship is on the line, but we want to beat Harvard to show — they walk into every house acting like they deserve the title, and we want to show them that they’ll have to work for it.”

Bad blood between Harvard and Penn isn’t new, as the two teams have long dominated the Ivy League football history books. But the rivalry still stands fresh as ever, especially after last year’s historic upset when the Quakers traveled to Cambridge and ended the Crimson’s three-year win streak.

That surprise 35-25 win stunned Harvard, well on its way to sole possession of the conference title. But the visitors will know better this time as they come to Philadelphia: They’ll know to expect a fight.

“Taking it to them. It’s gonna be about effort,” Vecchio said, when asked for his keys to victory. “Against Princeton, we looked a little hesitant on defense. We were there, just a step behind. This week it’s gonna be going all out knowing that it’s do or die.”

“From here on out, every game is a championship game,” Torgersen echoed. “This week carries a little more weight, because we have to win or go home.”