Now that’s how you clinch a winning record.
On Saturday, Penn football defeated Cornell, 29-22, in a thriller at Franklin Field. The Quakers (6-4, 4-3 Ivy) end the season on a high note, taking four consecutive Ivy battles after three one-possession losses to start their conference slate. Cornell (3-7, 3-4) lost its last three conference games after standing atop the Ivy League a few weeks back at 3-1. Neither team was in contention for the Ivy League championship entering the afternoon, which Yale won with a 6-1 record in conference play.
Sophomore quarterback Nick Robinson replaced senior Will Fischer-Colbrie with 8:21 remaining in the fourth quarter and Penn trailing, 22-21, and proceeded to lead a six-minute, 15-second touchdown drive of 97 yards — one that would stand as the game-winning drive.
The Quakers had four plays on that drive gain at least 10 yards, including an acrobatic diving catch from senior wide receiver Justin Watson for 34 yards that set Penn up with first-and-goal from the Cornell 3 with just over two minutes remaining. Senior running back Tre Solomon ran it in the very next play, and Robinson found Watson for the two-point conversion.
Now, Penn led 29-22, and Cornell would get one last drive to try to force overtime or possibly win outright.
Starting its final drive with 2:01 left in the game, Cornell drove 72 yards down to the Penn 1. Junior defensive back Sam Philippi thought he had a game-clinching interception about halfway through the drive, but it was called off due to penalty. Three plays later, Cornell quarterback Dalton Banks hit receiver Collin Shaw for 28 yards down the left sideline, and Shaw nearly scored but went out of bounds at the 1-yard line with 18 seconds left.
Cornell’s handoff on first-and-goal was thwarted, and Banks then rushed to spike the ball, as the Big Red were out of timeouts. While some Penn players and fans thought Banks’ spike was too late, the officials said Cornell had one more shot. Defensive back Jacob Martin then sniffed out and deflected Banks’ pass attempt to close the game.
Martin described that last play from his perspective.
“I honestly thought he didn’t spike it in time,” Martin said. “We lined up in our goal-line formation as a defense, he motioned in, I almost tripped because I was trying to get all the way across really fast, came back out. I just ran with my man and he threw it and I batted it down.”
In his final game for the Quakers, Watson was his usual self, finishing with 13 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown. That brought his season line to 80 catches, 1,083 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns — the latter a school record.
“It always feels good to win. Everyone always talks about how you remember your last game more than any others, so I’m glad I’m going to be able to remember this one with smiles,” Watson said. “It encapsulates our senior class and season, just rolling with the punches.”
Watson also made Ivy League history, becoming the first player to reach 1,000 receiving yards in three individual seasons, and also to catch at least one pass in 40 consecutive games. He finished his collegiate career with 286 receptions, 3,777 yards and 34 receiving touchdowns — all Penn records. He also extended his streak of games with a touchdown to 10, which already was a school and conference record.
The Red and Blue had little trouble moving the ball, only needing to punt twice all game. However, turnovers remained an issue for the Quakers, particularly with Fischer-Colbrie. He threw for 204 yards and a touchdown on 25 attempts, but threw four interceptions. Two were inside the Cornell 10 yard-line, while another was under-thrown to an open Watson who had sprinted past multiple Big Red defenders. Robinson completed five of seven passes for 75 yards on his only drive.
Priore said after the game that Fischer-Colbrie took a hit to the ribs during the game and was trying to play through injury, and Priore decided the switch to Robinson was needed.
The Quakers again had success on the ground, with sophomore running back Karekin Brooks gaining 147 yards and scoring two first-half touchdowns. Senior Tre Solomon and sophomore Abe Willows combined for 73 yards on 18 carries, plus Solomon’s game-winning touchdown.
After allowing just six points to Harvard a week ago, the Penn defense ceded 421 yards of offense to a Cornell unit that entered the game seventh in points scored in Ancient Eight play. All three of Cornell's touchdown drives included plays of 30+ yards. Shaw had a 35-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter — and almost had a second in the last minute — and Harold Coles had a 44-yard rush and 51-yard reception that also led to scores.
Banks finished 19-of-28 for 242 yards passing and a touchdown, while Coles had 122 rushing yards and Shaw had five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Penn has now won its last four games and eight of its last 10 against Cornell, which could have secured its first winning season in the Ivy League since 2005 with a win.
Instead, the Red and Blue can take solace in knowing that no matter what drama there might have been earlier in the season, at least they went out on their own terms.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.