2016 turned out to be another triumphant year for Penn football.
The Red and Blue started the season still excited about their Ivy League title the previous year, and they followed it up with a second consecutive championship under coach Ray Priore.
The Quakers’ home opener was on Sept. 17 against Lehigh, a 49-28 loss. After losing again the next week to Fordham, Penn got back on track with two consecutive wins against Dartmouth and Central Connecticut State.
Riding a two-game winning streak, Penn hosted Columbia on Oct. 15, which was the first time that coach Al Bagnoli returned to Franklin Field after coaching the Quakers for over two decades. It was not the homecoming that Bagnoli was hoping for, as Penn crushed the Lions by a score of 35-10.
The final five games of the season for the Red and Blue consisted of alternating between home and away, first traveling to Yale before hosting Brown for Homecoming, which both resulted in Penn victories.
After a win against Brown, the Quakers were riding a three-game winning streak. However, the streak was snapped when Princeton shut them out in a disappointing loss.
Penn's final game of the season was against Cornell, where the Quakers secured a win. Junior running back Tre Solomon starred throughout the game, recording 173 rushing yards and a pair of scores, including the game’s opening touchdown on a one-yard rush.
Ending with a 6-1 conference record, the Quakers secured a second consecutive Ivy title, only losing to co-champion and fellow 6-1 conference finisher Princeton.
The team largely played better than it did in the 2015 season. Senior quarterback Alek Torgersen and junior receiver Justin Watson, both of whom would later play professionally, produced stellar performances. Sophomore cornerback Mason Williams led the conference with six interceptions, and sophomore safety Sam Philippi racked up 58 tackles on the year.
The Red and Blue also needed to fill three holes in their offensive line from the 2015 team.
“Playing offensive line is not five individual guys; it’s one strong unit," offensive line coach Joe Johnson said.
Experienced players took up the left side of the line, led by seniors Nick Demes and Dan Poulus, who had been starting since their sophomore year. At the center of the line, Nate Kirchmier replaced the graduated Jack York. Kirchmier played in only two games in the 2015 season, spending most of that season preparing for a starting role in the 2016 season.
“Kirchmier was a really solid backup last year. He has really earned that starting center role," offensive coordinator John Reagan said.
During the 2016 season, the Quakers played Yale in the Yale Bowl’s first-ever Friday night game. Because the 102-year-old stadium didn’t even have lights, an outside contractor had to bring in temporary lighting to the stadium for the game. This game marked a big victory for the Quakers into the heart of the Ivy slate.
“I think a lot of us get more pumped up on Friday nights. It takes us back to our high school days — it kind of brings out the best in us," Torgersen said
This season also marked the third straight Penn-Yale game to air on NBC Sports Network, with the Bulldogs winning in 2014 and the Quakers winning in 2015 and 2016.
Watson, Philippi, and Williams were part of a solid group of underclassmen that returned in 2017 for the next season. By the end of the 2016 season, freshman quarterback Michael Collins, the all-time Connecticut high school leader in touchdown passes, was expected to step into the starting role for the 2017 season. Overall, the offense was poised to maintain the efficiency that generated its second Ivy title in a row.
The Red and Blue’s best moment of their 2016 season was arguably against Harvard at Franklin Field in a do-or-die match-up. Winning would bring the Quakers one step closer to a second straight Ivy League title, but losing would knock them out of contention after they had lost to Princeton a week earlier. The game was close, but ultimately, Penn’s quarterback-wide receiver duo in Torgersen and Watson found a way to win with 15 seconds left in the game.
The 2016 season proved once again that the Quakers came to win, and win they did.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.