Coming off a surprising loss at home against Cornell last week, the (3-6, 1-5 Ivy) Quakers traveled to Cambridge, Mass., to take on the (7-2 , 4-2) Harvard Crimson during their senior day. The Quakers showed flashes of dominance, especially on the defensive end, but were unable to piece together a complete performance, as they fell to the Crimson, 23-7.
Harvard won the toss and deferred, and the Quaker offense, led by freshman quarterback Aidan Sayin, got to take the field first.
Things could not have started worse for the Quakers.
On the first play from scrimmage, Sayin got the ball on a reverse handoff from senior wide receiver Owen Goldsberry and lofted it to wide-open sophomore receiver Joshua Casilli, who bobbled it, and the pass was picked off by James Herring of Harvard, giving the Crimson excellent field position at the Harvard 47.
The defense, however, stepped up, forcing a three and out and giving the ball back to the offense. On their next drive, the Red and Blue, aided by a pass interference penalty, were able to drive to the Crimson 39, but stalled out after a third-down pass by Sayin was nearly intercepted and fell incomplete. The Quakers elected to punt, giving the Crimson possession at their own eight.
Five plays into the drive, on a third and 16 from the Harvard 28, running back Aaron Shampklin ran right down the middle for a 72-yard score, giving the Crimson a 7-0 lead. Penn, once again, went three and out on its next possession, and on the next drive, Harvard quarterback Luke Emge hit Ledger Hatch for 41 yards to close out the first quarter, with Harvard in striking distance at the Penn 22.
Starting off the second quarter, despite a defensive pass interference penalty on senior defensive back Jason McCleod on Hatch to give the Crimson a new set of downs within the red zone, the Quakers made a timely stop to hold the Crimson to a field goal, which made the score 10-0.
"[Penn has] a really good defense," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. "They don't get as much credit as they deserve."
On the next drive, Maurcus McDaniel came in to relieve Sayin as quarterback, and the running game started to come alive. Aided by a sequence of good blocking, the Quakers were able to quickly advance 55 yards in five plays, all on the ground. Following a timeout, from the Harvard 20, graduate student running back Isaiah Malcome took a jet sweep to the edge and raced into the end zone to make it a 10-7 ballgame.
The Red and Blue forced another three and out, and the offense took over at their own 40. A combination of snaps between McDaniel and Sayin led the Quakers to the Harvard 26, but after failing to get a first down, senior kicker Daniel Karrash’s 43-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
"[Coming in and out of plays] did not really affect my rhythm today. I want to go see [Maurcus] go out there and play well," Sayin said.
The Crimson offense was able to drive to the Penn 46 following the miss, but once again, the Quaker defense stepped up, forcing a punt. From their own 14, the Quakers could not get anything going, and to make matters worse, a partially blocked punt gave Harvard excellent field position at the Penn 37. Despite a defensive pass interference penalty on junior defensive back Chris Rankins, sophomore cornerback Logan Nash made a huge tackle to force a fourth down and one for the Crimson, who elected to kick a field goal, making it a 13-7 game at half.
Coming out of the half, Harvard received the ball and began the drive from their own 22. They were able to progress 24 yards to their own 46, but a big third-down tackle by senior linebacker Adam Conyer forced a punt, giving the Quakers the ball back at their own 20. However, the Quakers could not muster up any offense, and on third down from their own 24, Sayin rolled out to the left, as he was chased down by two Harvard defenders, and he attempted to throw it as he was going down, but he fumbled, giving the Crimson the ball back with excellent field position. However, Shampklin was taken down for a four-yard loss by junior free safety Jaden Key, and two consecutive incompletions by Emge led Harvard to settle for a 41-yard field goal, making it 16-7 in favor of the Crimson.
"I am happy with the effort we showed on defense today. We just started out with watching film and seeing [Harvard's] tendencies in the game based. The guys come to work every day [during practice] and all they want to do is come out and play football," Key said.
On their next possession, the Quakers once again went three and out. Harvard began their next drive at their 35, but went three and out as well, giving the ball back to Penn. On a second and 12 from their own 14-yard line, Sayin handed off to Malcome, who made a man miss and galloped all the way inside the Harvard 40, but a block in the back penalty on freshman wide receiver Julien Stokes called the play back.
Two plays later, however, Stokes was able to redeem himself, catching a pass from Sayin for 27 yards, bringing the Quakers to the Harvard 46. The momentum quickly halted for Penn, as Sayin’s next attempt was high and was picked off by Harvard's Daniel Abraham for Penn’s third turnover of the game. From there, the Crimson offense, partly aided by a face mask penalty against Key, drove the ball into the red zone, but once again, the Quaker defense stepped up to force a 31-yard field goal attempt, which was blocked by Penn to hold the score at 16-7 at the end of the third quarter.
To start the fourth quarter, Penn’s offense did not do its defense any favors, as it could only manage to earn one first down, and senior wide receiver Rory Starkey Jr.’s third-down drop forced the Quakers to punt. On the next drive, the defense did their usual work of the afternoon to give the ball back to the offense with solid field position at their own 34. However, Penn once again was not able to move the ball much downfield, managing only one first down before having to punt.
On the next drive, from their own 16-yard line, Harvard’s offense masterfully drove 84 yards down the field, highlighted by big runs from running backs Shampklin and Aidan Borguet, and burned six minutes off the clock to make the score 23-7 on a 16-yard touchdown run by Shampklin. The Quaker offense was finally able to move the ball on their final possession, driving 46 yards in four plays to the Crimson 29, but Sayin’s first-down pass was intercepted, ending the afternoon for the Quakers.
With the loss, the Quakers fell to 3-6 on the season, and 1-5 in Ivy League play. They could only gain 267 yards of total offense, despite holding the Crimson to only 312 total offensive yards. Sayin showed flashes of brilliance and made some big throws, but he could only complete 20 out of 36 (55.6%) passes for 207 yards, and he had three costly interceptions as well as a lost fumble. Defensively Penn, was dominant, registering two sacks on Emge, but their efforts could not overcome the 3-0 lost turnover battle for the Quakers to victory.
"[I] could not be more proud of the team, that was a battle to the end. They continue to fight, never relinquished, and came up big time throughout … Unfortunately we came up on the short end, but I am still very, very proud. This group of young men who battled the whole entire season, they're tight, and they stay together," coach Ray Priore said following the loss.
The Quakers hope to bounce back at home against Ivy League leader Princeton (7-1, 4-1) next Saturday.