The Ivy League season is still just beginning, but Penn football's game this weekend already feels like a must win.
The Quakers will begin their stretch of six consecutive conference games with a home game against Columbia this Saturday at 1 pm. Both teams were defeated in their respective Ivy openers, and the loser of this one will find itself in a deep hole.
Both sides also remember the dramatic ending of last season’s battle at Columbia, a game in which the Lions (3-1, 0-1 Ivy) walked off with a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime. The Red and Blue (3-1, 0-1 Ivy) are doing everything they can to ensure that there is not a similar result this weekend at Franklin Field.
“[Last year’s game] fueled me; it fueled literally everyone who watched that game, especially just because of how they won,” sophomore quarterback Ryan Glover said. “I think everybody’s really putting forth maximum effort, because … we don’t like these guys. They really got that win on us last year, and we need revenge.”
Revenge for Penn will require the team to improve areas of weakness shown against Dartmouth in the Ivy opener two weeks ago. That game exposed an offense that was stagnant throughout the afternoon and a defense that could neither get to the quarterback nor stop the Big Green’s aerial attack.
But since then, the group has taken strides toward becoming a more complete football team. Last week’s nail-biting win at Sacred Heart was definitely a step in the right direction, as the Quakers look to continue their positive momentum.
“I think we showed some good signs last week,” coach Ray Priore said. “The first 33 minutes of the game, the first half and into the first drive of the second half, we were [firing] on all cylinders, running the ball, good blocks. …. We sort of had a down moment in the second half, and we came back strong with the last drive of the game, which was good to see.”
Glover, like his coach, had a positive attitude regarding the progress that Penn has made since Week 1 of conference play.
“Last game, I definitely noticed more toughness. When we were in tough situations, I noticed that we persevered a lot more. So I think we’ve just mentally toughened since that [Dartmouth] loss, for sure.”
Perhaps another good piece of news for the Red and Blue is that Columbia has lost seven All-Ivy players to graduation since last season. Still, the Lions have brought back five all-conference selections, although at least two — fifth-year safety Landon Baty and junior wide receiver Josh Wainwright — have missed games this season. Baty did not play in last week’s game against Marist, making his status for this week uncertain, and Wainwright is out for the season after he suffered a torn ACL in Columbia’s first game of the year.
In last season’s meeting, Wainwright torched the Quakers’ secondary, going for 193 yards and catching the game-winner in overtime, one of his two touchdowns on the day. It’s safe to say that he will not be missed by Penn.
On the other side, the Red and Blue will of course lean on junior running back Karekin Brooks, who is first in the Ivy League with seven rushing touchdowns on the season and second in the conference in rushing yards with 467. Defensively, linebackers Nick Miller and Brian O’Neill will be key to stopping the Columbia run game, while a secondary without senior captain Sam Philippi will be tested by the Lions’ sophomore quarterback Josh Bean.
Entering this week, Penn has shown flashes of great football, but according to Priore, the team has yet to put it all together.
“I think that’s really where we spent a lot of time this year, working on finishing, finishing games … that’s what we’re looking for our kids to do. A complete game, which we have not done yet. We’ve played really good in spurts and segments, but not a complete game.”
It’s easier said than done, but the Quakers may need a complete game this week if they want to avoid an 0-2 start in Ivy League play.