CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — If there were any doubts about Penn football's ability to hold a lead, they are gone now.
The Red and Blue took the lead early and never looked back as they spoiled Harvard’s Senior Day with a 23-6 victory.
The Quakers (5-4, 3-3 Ivy) seized the lead on the opening play from scrimmage as Tre Solomon took a hand-off 77 yards all the way to the end zone. The run was the longest of Solomon’s career and it set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
The running back triumvirate of Solomon, Karekin Brooks, and Abe Willows racked up a total 281 yards on the ground against the Crimson (5-4, 3-3).
“I think it all started up front with the offensive line,” Solomon said. “They’re coming into their own right now. More players are comfortable with the game plan and we opened up some holes.”
Despite out-gaining the Crimson in the first half 255 yards to 82, the Quakers only found themselves up 10-3.
While a seven-point margin could have been a cause for concern in weeks past, the Red and Blue were determined not to let this one slip.
Starting on their own 48-yard line early in the third quarter after an interception by Connor O'Brien, Solomon broke loose again for another big gain of 42 yards to move the Quakers deep into Harvard territory.
A holding call immediately after looked like a potential drive killer, pushing the Red and Blue back to the Crimson 19-yard line. But senior quarterback Will Fisher-Colbrie delivered a perfectly thrown ball despite being under pressure to Justin Watson to increase the Quaker lead to 17-3.
With the touchdown, Watson set the Ivy League record for consecutive games with a touchdown reception with nine.
Harvard responded immediately after the Penn touchdown by putting together a nine-play, 68-yard drive of its own that threatened to result in a touchdown.
A poor performance from the hosts' starting quarterback Joe Viviano opened the door for Jake Smith to lead the Crimson offense.
Smith marched Harvard deep into Penn territory, where they were threatening with first-and-goal. However, a key holding penalty forced Harvard into a third and long situation.
As they had done all game, the Quakers' defense got the stop when they needed it, forcing Harvard to settle for just a field goal.
The offense, led by quarterback Will Fisher-Colbrie and the rushing attack, played a solid game in tough conditions, totaling 411 yards in the contest.
But the real MVP of the game was the Quakers' defense.
The Red and Blue suffocated Harvard's offense, allowing only two third-down conversions on 13 tries and holding the Crimson to only six first downs.
“We think about our defense as a defense that swarms,” junior linebacker Nick Miller explained. “Nothing too much changed [from last week to this week], I think it was just our level of execution [that allowed us to be successful].”
To put it into perspective how good Penn’s defense was, Harvard was held to single digits for the first time since 2009.
The last team to do it? None other than the Penn Quakers themselves.
Coach Ray Priore was proud of how his team has responded after being down early in the season.
“From the first game to this point in time, we’ve had some ups, we’ve had some downs,” Priore said. “But this group is very, very special how they’ve stayed together, and today was our best complete game.”
Watson echoed the statements of his coach.
“We just kept preaching ‘stick together’,” Watson said. “The guys did a great job of buying in, taking it one week at a time, and that’s what we’ve been doing with these W’s.”
Unfortunately, Yale’s (8-1, 5-1) victory over Princeton eliminated the Red and Blue from repeating as Ivy League champions for the third straight year.
The Quakers look to finish their season on a high note as they take on Cornell next Saturday for Senior Day at Franklin Field.