HANOVER, N.H. — It took four quarters and two overtimes, but on Friday night, Penn football proved its mettle in a 23-17 barnburner upset over Dartmouth.
Coming in as double-digit underdogs and having lost their last four games to Dartmouth (1-2, 0-1 Ivy), the Quakers (3-0, 1-0) were heading to Hanover, N.H. without many people outside their locker room picking them to earn a victory. Yet in the Red and Blue’s sole primetime game of the season, Penn proved them all wrong, mustering a gutsy 23-17 win in double overtime.
With under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, all momentum seemed to be in Dartmouth’s favor. After a shanked punt by Penn, the Big Green had just 37 yards to gain before reaching the end zone, and they did just that, marking the Quakers’ first allowed offensive touchdown of the season, and giving Dartmouth a 10-7 lead.
The nails seemed to be further hammered into the coffin once Penn followed the touchdown with a three-and-out and the Big Green narrowly missing a deep field goal.
Two minutes and 11 seconds remained, and the Quakers were on their own 30-yard line, faced with the task of scoring for the first time since the first drive of the game.
Right out the gate, Penn faltered and faced a fourth down that would potentially eliminate its chances. With one yard to gain, senior running back Jonathan Mulatu trudged for two yards to secure the first down.
After a costly drop by senior wide receiver Malone Howley led to another fourth down that needed to be converted — this time done so by running back Trey Flowers — Howley redeemed himself on the next series, securing a 19-yard grab to bring Penn to the Dartmouth 25.
A drop in the end zone with three seconds left by wide receiver Sterling Stokes forced Penn to kick a 35-yard field goal to bring the score to 10-10 at the close of regulation.
Both teams found the end zone and hit extra points to begin overtime (even though Penn’s players stormed the field after thinking Dartmouth had missed).
On the first drive of 2OT, Dartmouth went three-and-out and then proceeded to miss a 28-yard field goal, which was blocked by Penn.
With the ball back and only needing a field goal, Flowers became the hero for the Quakers, rushing for 24 yards on a second-and-11 to set up a one-yard touchdown by him that gave Penn the upset victory.
“Everything that we worked for during the summer, all the guys being out there, earning the dub, making it all worth it,” Flowers said on what was going through his mind after scoring the game-winning touchdown. “Just stick with ourselves; it’s never what they do, it’s always what we do. We stopped ourselves plenty of times, and in crunch time, we didn’t stop ourselves.”
The Quaker defensive front was dominant yet again on Friday night, this time against a capable Dartmouth squad that’s averaged 36.5 points so far this season.
Penn was aided by continual overthrows from senior quarterback Nick Howard in the first half, but the Red and Blue proved dominant regardless, not allowing much separation for Dartmouth’s wide receivers and hammering a running game that finished first in the Ivy League last season.
“Playing confident, doing what we do, we are a stellar defense, plain and simple,” senior defensive lineman Jake Heimlicher said. “We stopped a very good offense that was No. 2 in the nation with over 350 yards rushing per game … and we held them to 193.”
While Howard came into the game as the experienced senior, it was Penn’s sophomore quarterback Aidan Sayin that looked like the poised veteran.
After a low-scoring affair last week against Lafayette, the offense started Friday’s contest with some more adversity early. On a second-and-eight from the Dartmouth 48-yard line, linebacker Joe Heffernan waited patiently before surging off the left end uncontested to sack Sayin for a nine-yard loss. Facing a third-and-17 on the very first drive of the game, Penn dialed up a perfectly executed screen pass to Flowers on the same side Heffernan had just come in on to secure the first down.
From there, the Quakers marched to a touchdown to cap off a 17-play, 7:45 drive, the longest possession of the game by either team.
Penn’s offense faltered as the half wore on, though, plagued by three consecutive drives with missed fourth-down conversion attempts in Dartmouth territory. The bold decisions marked a notable change of pace for coach Ray Priore, who typically favors more conservative decision-making.
Following last season, in which Penn was walloped by Dartmouth at Franklin Field 31-7, Friday’s game marks a change in the pendulum of Ivy League supremacy.
“I don’t think anyone gave us a chance today, to win football games, really,” Priore said. “People were writing stories without giving us Quakers a chance. So message: We are 3-0, ready to play another game next week. I’ll let [the media] derive any message they want.”
Penn will play one more non-conference game next weekend at Georgetown (1-3) before facing the rest of the Ivy League across the six weeks after that.