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Sophomore Ryan Cragun, who has scored three touchdowns so far this season, is currently leading the Ivy League in receptions.

Credit: Gary Lin

Why not two in a row?

A week ago, Penn football beat Brown in dramatic fashion to pick up its first Ivy League win of the season with a last second, game-sealing field goal from sophomore kicker Daniel Karrash. On Saturday, the Red and Blue will look to continue this momentum, as they face off against rival Cornell on Homecoming weekend at Franklin Field for the coveted Trustees' Cup.

“Against Brown, we learned how to finish a game," coach Ray Priore said. “We held the lead after going into halftime leading by two. I loved the energy the defense came back out with. We had four key turnovers, and it’s important to win those close games."

There will be two very evenly matched teams taking the field on Saturday. Penn (3-4, 1-3 Ivy) and Cornell (2-5, 1-3) will each come into the game with only one conference win. Both wins were against Brown, the team that currently sits at the bottom of the Ancient Eight standings. And both were won in similar fashion — with a game-winning field goal in the final seconds of a high-scoring game. 

For the Quakers, it will be a very interesting defensive matchup. In the past three games, the Red and Blue have allowed 36, 46, and 44 points, respectively, while letting up 486, 551, and 413 yards of total offense, respectively. As a result, Penn’s defense is currently second to last in the Ivy League in scoring and yards allowed with 32.9 points per game and 425.3 yards per game. 

Luckily for the Quakers, the Big Red is last in the Ancient Eight in offensive scoring, averaging just under 19 points per game, and second worst in total offense, generating only 348.1 yards of total offense per game. 

“Cornell’s offense is built on running the football," Priore said. "They’ve really done a good job running the football, so I think the key to playing a good game this weekend will be our ability to stop the run, and on the flip side of it our defensive game plan is all based on what the offense does. If we can get up on them early and force them to pass the ball to win, that will play to our strengths.”

Leading the way for the Cornell offense is senior running back Harold Coles, who is currently third in the Ivy League in rushing yards with 506 yards on the season. While Coles has been one of the most efficient running backs in the conference, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, the Big Red struggle on the ground as a team, as they are second to last in the Ivy League in rushing yards. 

Credit: Caroline Gibson

Sophomore wide receiver Rory Starkey, Jr.

In the passing game, Cornell has not been able to find much success this season. Junior quarterback Richie Kenney has completed an Ivy-low 54% of his passes for 1282 yards, six touchdowns, and nine interceptions. 

The Penn offense played without senior running back Karekin Brooks last week against Brown, and against the second-worst rushing defense in the Ancient Eight, Penn put up 66 yards on the ground. The Red and Blue could use the presence of the Ivy League’s leading rusher if they want to be productive running the ball. 

“Anytime you miss a player like [Brooks], it’s different, but it’s also the next man up mentality. [Senior Abe Willows] has played running back before and had a great game on Saturday,” senior quarterback Nick Robinson said.

Robinson and sophomore wide receivers Ryan Cragun and Rory Starkey have been able to find success through the air — Cragun leads the Ivy in receptions and receiving yards while Starkey is just five spots behind his teammate. 

In the past week, members of both teams have been recognized for their performances thus far in the season. For Cornell, freshman linebacker Jake Stebbins was one of 24 players nationally named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List as the top freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision. A three-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week, Stebbins is 12th in the Ancient Eight in tackles, second in forced fumbles, fourth in sacks and seventh in tackles for loss despite starting just two games.

For Penn, junior linebacker Brian O’Neill was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week after registering two tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Additionally, senior safety Sam Philippi has been nominated for the 2019 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Priore will enter Saturday’s game with an all-time record of 4-0 against Cornell. He would like to make it 5-0 by the end of the day and come out with Penn’s first back-to-back wins of the season.

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