One of the first things an athlete at Penn learns about is the time-honored tradition of the Penn-Princeton rivalry. For Penn football’s senior class, the rivalry will be their last collegiate competition as well.
After a slow start to the year, the Quakers (5-4, 3-3 Ivy) bounced back and will ride into the last weekend of the season on a three-game win streak. Close wins against Brown, Cornell, and Harvard have evened out Penn’s conference record to 3-3. A win against Princeton (7-2, 4-2) on Saturday at Franklin Field would give the Quakers a winning record for the Ivy League season.
“Win or lose, I’m just super proud of how our team has bounced back this season,” senior defensive back and captain Sam Philippi said. “Nobody can call us quitters because of the way we’ve finished the season. We didn’t roll over when times were tough.”
Princeton is currently sitting at third in the Ivy League, with its losses coming at the hands of Dartmouth and Yale last weekend. If they come out with a win, the Quakers would tie the Tigers’ conference record.
“I think [the rivalry] adds a little bit more pressure. Everybody wants to win. It’s not bad pressure, it’s good pressure. If we didn’t feel pressure, it wouldn’t be much of a rivalry,” Philippi said. “The last couple weeks, we’ve thrived under pressure, so hopefully this added pressure makes us a little bit better this week, and we can come out on top.”
Being against Princeton, the game holds a lot of weight in terms of school pride. Being the last game of the season, though, and the final game for many players, holds a different kind of weight. Ivy League football teams don’t have the opportunity to play in the postseason, so there is no chance to play after this weekend.
“Each opponent we play each week, we respect them the same,” senior quarterback Nick Robinson said. “You’ve played this game a long time, more than half your life, and it means a lot. Being the last game, it’ll be emotional, but it’s an emotional game.”
Not only is this the last game for the Penn senior class, but it marks the culmination of the careers of Philippi and Robinson, who have been playing together since they were seven.
“It’s pretty bittersweet,” Philippi said. “I’m just trying to enjoy every last moment of it. Take everything and go in with a good attitude, a positive attitude.”
Coach Ray Priore praises his entire senior class as the reason for the upswing at the end of the season.
“I’m so proud of this group of kids — the seniors, being unselfish. So many of them have sacrificed so much, whether it be swapping positions or taking on different roles,” Priore said. “[They’ve led] this team through some great times, but we had some rough times during the year. We are where we are right now, finishing with these last three wins, because of those guys. Their leadership has been phenomenal.”
Twenty-nine seniors form Priore's arguably most experienced lineup during his tenure as head coach, not just in playing time, but in being representative of Penn’s football program.
“It’s all the seniors — we always point to the guys who are the captains, who are the stars, but it’s more than just those guys,” Priore said. “They’ve all had a hand in this in their own way.”