From here on out, it’s win or go home.
Following Penn football’s 28-0 loss on the road to Princeton, the Quakers (5-3, 4-1 Ivy) will have to win out in order to earn at least a share of the Ivy title for a second straight year. They stand tied with the Tigers (6-2, 4-1), both a game behind Harvard for Ancient Eight primacy. The Crimson (7-1, 5-0) and Cornell are on tap in Penn’s final games, so the Red and Blue still have total control over their own destiny.
The tone of an entire game is not necessarily set on the opening drive, but junior punter Hunter Kelley dropping a snap, Princeton recovering the ball and bringing it to the house did not start things off on the right foot. Literally.
“It’s one of those back-breakers right from the get-go,” Penn coach Ray Priore said. “That sort of set the tone where we really, I would say, on both sides of the ball did not execute.”
While the Tigers missed the PAT, the Red and Blue remained flat-footed. Senior quarterback Alek Torgersen was held to 179 yards passing and threw just his third interception all year on a critical drive into the red zone.
The first half was an exercise in futility for the Penn offense: two punts, two turnover on downs and the failed punt attempt highlighted the worst first-half showing for the Quakers since getting shut out at Brown in 2013.
On the other side of the ball, Princeton junior quarterback John Lovett made it a 13-0 game, leaping over the pile at the goal line midway through the second quarter.
No matter where the Quakers turned, they just couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm offensively. Junior wide receiver Justin Watson, after logging 376 yards and four touchdowns in the last two weeks, put up 82 yards on 12 catches but couldn’t break out for the big play. Tre Solomon, best rusher in the Ivy League this season, was held to 38 yards on 11 carries before freshman Karekin Brooks took over most of the burden in the second half.
“We didn’t execute, we couldn’t finish drives today, and that’s what I think it came down to — finishing. Finishing was a big issue for us,” Torgersen said.
Three failed fourth-down conversions on four attempts told the tale of the weekend, with Penn simply unable to come up with the critical play as the deficit grew.
Lovett extended the Tigers’ lead in the third, connecting with senior James Frusciante on a four-yard pass to bring it to 21-0. It looked like the Quakers would finally get on the scoreboard when Torgersen was picked off at the Tigers’ 15.
“I think the key down against an offense like this is first down,” Priore said. “Because you have to get these offenses off schedule on first down.”
Penn wouldn’t come that close to scoring again. A turnover on downs gave Princeton the ball with 11:27 to play, and they burned almost seven minutes before senior running back Joe Rhattigan found the end zone for the game’s final score.
By that point, the life was out of the Quakers. They started putting a drive together in those waning minutes, but a fumble with 1:10 to play in the red zone sealed it.
The loss was the first in Ivy play for the Red and Blue since the Ivy opener against Dartmouth in 2015, breaking a 10-game streak.
“The championship’s never been our focus on the season, it’s always the next game,” Torgersen said.
Nonetheless, the Quakers still control their own destiny. But the margin for error just evaporated.