NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Look, it’s kind of silly to watch a team’s third straight conference loss and try to root around and pull evidence for hope from it. It’s pretty much always the wrong take when you point to a bad result and claim it as some sort of victory.
Penn football’s loss to Yale could be an exception. The bar for success, having been lowered so demonstrably by the previous week’s outing at Columbia, was surpassed despite the final score.
Perhaps some context is needed.
Teams should only be judged based on our expectations for them in the first place. It makes little sense to heap praise upon a lopsided favorite when they do, indeed, blow out their opponent as expected. Similarly, it’s unfair to harp on a minnow’s loss when they weren’t expected to win in the first place.
Penn football is no minnow. They are not — and never should be — classified among the Ivy’s worst teams. They do not get the benefit of the doubt on that front. This is not Brown.
That is precisely why the Columbia loss was such a big embarrassment for the Quakers to endure; we expect better from them. They expect better from themselves too.
“After last week, [the kids] were embarrassed,” coach Ray Priore said. “They didn’t like the outcome of that.”
Few expected Penn to turn around and beat Yale. What fans and followers did expect was improvement — some signal that the team still had life. I expected the same. I expected Penn football to prove to observers that embarrassments are temporary and rare.
Penn didn’t win, but at least the Quakers met expectations.
Penn hung with the preseason conference favorites all game, matching Yale blow for blow. On a day when Yale quarterback Kurt Rawlings set multiple program records and cemented himself as among the best at his position in school history, his counterpart, Nick Robinson, did just enough to hang around. Robinson wasn’t perfect by any stretch — Priore pointed to his interception as one of two moments that lost Penn the game — but he did enough to keep his team in the game.
The Penn defense weakened as the game went along but kept the Quakers in it in the first half. As expected, the Red and Blue eventually succumbed to the Rawlings-led Elis, but they did enough to give the team a chance to win entering the fourth quarter.
In the end, despite doing enough to be within striking distance, Penn, the underdog, lost. But at least the Quakers kept it close.
“After last week we knew we had to come out and make a statement,” defensive lineman Prince Emili said. “I feel like we did that today even though we didn’t get the result we wanted.”
Priore came out in the post-game press conference and framed the result the same way. It was clearly the message all week long — that the Columbia loss, embarrassing as it was, cannot be allowed to define the team. That the players and coaches had to step up in the face of that adversity and deliver a performance they can at least be proud of, even if it comes in a loss.
“This is a team of fighters,” Priore proclaimed. “They do not waver one bit on their mindset, their culture. We will definitely build from this. These guys know how hard they’ve worked to get to this point. There’s a lot of fight left in them.”
The season is over as far as title aspirations go, but that doesn’t mean there are no more expectations left for the Red and Blue to meet. I expect Penn to beat Cornell and Brown at home and finish the Ivy season with at least two wins. And I expect the team to be motivated to accomplish those goals, show grit and determination even when overmatched, and to not let losing become a contagious habit.
Penn football lost, but in doing so proved that the team is not a lost cause.
THEODOROS PAPAZEKOS is a College senior from Pittsburgh and Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at email@example.com.