A touchdown as time expired in regulation. A walk-off touchdown in overtime. A missed game-tying field goal as the clock neared 0:00. Are you noticing a trend here?
Penn football’s nail biter of a win Saturday — made possible when Cornell failed to score from one yard out on the final play of the game — was yet another entry to the Quakers’ litany of dramatic 2017 contests. Of the Red and Blue’s seven Ivy League games this season, five were decided by one score or less — and four were decided on the very last play of the game.
“I’ve had to take my Lipitor,” Penn coach Ray Priore joked following Saturday’s season finale.
While 2017 may not have been easy on Priore’s heart health, it certainly provided a hefty dose of entertainment for Penn fans. While not all of those close contests went Penn’s way — the Quakers lost their first three Ivy games by a combined 11 points — fans at Franklin Field were glued to their seats for nearly every play of the season.
And while Penn was unable to defend its back-to-back Ivy titles, the Quakers did pull off a 2004 Red Sox comeback of sorts, winning their final four Ivy games after starting 0-3 in conference play.
“When you get knocked down the way we got knocked down with those devastating losses … the way they came back and fought was a testament to them,” Priore said.
The excitement of 2017 didn’t come via the dramatic finishes alone. Justin Watson was a one-man highlight reel in his senior season, putting the finishing touches on a career that Cornell head coach David Archer called “the best of all time.” With 192 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, Watson completed his streak of scoring in each one of the season’s games.
Watson continued his stellar play this season despite the graduation of Alek Torgersen, Penn’s all-time leader in touchdown passes. Despite quarterback play that sometimes bordered on unwatchable — for example, starter Will Fischer-Colbrie threw four interceptions Saturday before being benched — Watson managed to avoid a substantial statistical regression from his previous two seasons.
A diving catch on Penn’s final, game-winning drive set Penn up at the Cornell three, a opportunity they would convert into a touchdown on the next play. Seconds later, Watson pulled in a Nick Robinson pass to secure a two-point conversion and put Penn up by seven. That sequence of events — the final plays of Watson’s career — was yet another entry into the captain’s collection of dramatic moments, which includes last minute touchdowns against Princeton on Nov. 4 and Harvard in 2016.
Next season will bring many changes for the Red and Blue. Watson will be gone (quite possibly to the NFL), as will running back Tre Solomon and a pair of starting offensive linemen, and the team will need to find answers at quarterback.
2017, at least compared to Priore’s first two seasons at the helm, was something of a disappointment for the Red and Blue. However, what the season lacked in championships, it made up for in drama: from nail-biting finishes to a late-season standings surge to the heroics of Watson, Penn football in 2017 was must-see TV.
The Red and Blue may very well win more games in 2018. One thing, however, is guaranteed: they will not have a more entertaining season than they did this year.
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