Friday night’s Penn-Harvard football game was must-see TV. Which is interesting, because it seemed awfully like a rerun.
For the second consecutive year, the Red and Blue upset the Crimson in the penultimate game of the season. For the second consecutive year, Justin Watson was the game’s star. And for the second consecutive year, the win put Penn just one victory away from an Ivy League title.
The Red and Blue’s 27-14 victory came down to the final seconds. After No. 22 Harvard (7-2, 5-1 Ivy) managed to tie the score at 14 with 3:23 remaining thanks to a touchdown and two-point conversion, Penn quarterback Alek Torgersen led the team on a 10-play, 80-yard drive to take back the lead. A two-yard touchdown strike to junior wideout Watson with just 15 seconds remaining gave the Quakers (6-3, 5-1) the win.
“We were very composed. We knew what we needed to do,” Torgersen said. “Fortunately for us, things really clicked on that last drive.”
Friday represented the team’s senior night, as the Quakers will close out the season on the road at Cornell next Saturday. For Torgersen, the gravity of ending his Franklin Field career — with a game-winning touchdown on his final pass, no less — was not forgotten.
“We had one last time to light up the Frank. I couldn’t be any happier,” said the man who is now the Quakers’ all-time passing touchdowns leader with 51, having surpassed 2002 graduate Gavin Hoffman.
Harvard made a last-ditch attempt to score with just seconds left, but instead fumbled after a hit from sophomore defensive back Sam Philippi. Junior defensive end Tayler Hendrickson returned the loose ball to the end zone as time expired, putting an exclamation point on the victory.
That was the second defensive touchdown of the day for the Red and Blue, who scored their first points of the game on an interception return by defensive lineman Louis Vecchio in the second quarter. The junior snagged a Joe Viviano pass at the line and scampered 35 yards untouched to make the score 7-3.
“In practice all week, we’ve practiced reacting to the pass,” Vecchio said. “Things panned out the exact way we hoped it would.”
The two defensive touchdowns highlighted what was an exceptional night for the unit. The Quakers racked up nine tackles for loss — including six sacks — and intercepted three Viviano passes. Vecchio provided three of those sacks while sophomore defensive back Mason Williams had two picks, bringing his season total to five, tied for best in the Ivy League.
Torgersen followed up Vecchio’s score with a 47-yard touchdown strike to sophomore wideout Christian Pearson in the third quarter. That tally represented the Red and Blue’s first offensive points since the first half of their Oct. 29 win versus Brown.
Harvard responded with another field goal, before using advantageous starting field position to put together a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. A fourth-and-seven conversion on a pass to Justice Shelton-Mosely kept the possession alive before Viviano found senior wide receiver Joseph Foster for a 26-yard score. A trick play — ending in the receiver Shelton-Mosely throwing to the quarterback Viviano — earned Harvard the two-point conversion.
But then Torgersen and Co. responded. The offense — which had been somewhat quiet all game — came alive in the final drive. Watson caught four passes for 42 yards on the final series, bringing his game total to 10 receptions for 120 yards.
Watson came into the contest as the Ivy’s leader in all-purpose yards and is on pace to statistically outdo his stellar 2015 season, in which he was a finalist for the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Since 2007, Harvard has gone 60-9 in Ivy play. Five of those losses have come at the hands of Penn — including the only two conference games the Crimson have dropped in the last three years.
The Quakers will head to Cornell (3-5, 1-4) next Saturday. A win would guarantee Penn a share of the Ivy title for the second time in Priore’s two-year tenure.
A three-way split of the title once again looks like a very real possibility, as Princeton and Harvard each have one conference loss and will be heavily favored in their remaining games.