There was no red wave in the Pennsylvania midterm elections this week, but a Crimson wave did come to Franklin Field and wipe out the Quakers on Saturday afternoon.
After a solid win against Cornell a week ago, Penn football (7-2, 4-2 Ivy) hosted Harvard (6-3, 4-2) with hopes of beating the Crimson on the way to securing a chance to compete for the Ivy title. These hopes were promptly demolished by Harvard’s high-flying offense and dominant defense, which clobbered the Quakers by a score of 37-14.
Offensively, Penn was dead on arrival, failing to convert a first down in the first half outside of its first scoring drive. Harvard played two low safeties to both stifle the run and dare sophomore quarterback Aidan Sayin to throw it deep down the sidelines, which Penn mostly failed to capitalize on. This defense proved wonders for Harvard, which only allowed 221 total yards of offense from the Quakers’ starters, just nine of which were on the ground, especially considering Penn senior running back Trey Flowers’ recent impressive performances. He finished with just 16 yards on the ground this afternoon.
"We were down, which means we couldn't just run the ball," senior wide receiver Rory Starkey, Jr. said. "We had to go out and make big plays, which changed what was happening on the field."
The Quakers followed this offensive ineptitude with disastrous pass defense, allowing Harvard’s senior quarterback Charlie Dean to throw for 222 yards and three touchdowns on 23 of 27 passing during the first half alone. Dean’s total passing yards in the first half were above Penn’s average allowed passing yards per game this year — and Penn’s total yardage from their starters by the end of the game.
"We had a good game plan on the weekend, and it was just a matter of execution," Dean said. "I executed the game plan to the best of my ability, and I came out firing."
Harvard continued its domination at the start of the second half with a large completion over the middle to junior tight end Tyler Neville, and a 20-yard sprint of a run from star senior running back Aidan Borguet. These plays set up an impressive pass from Dean over the head of Penn pass rusher Grant Ristoff right to the hands of senior tight end Haven Montefalco to make the score 31-7 in Harvard's favor.
The Quakers attempted a comeback in the second half with Sayin relying heavily on senior wide receiver Rory Starkey. On Penn’s first drive of the second half, Starkey ran for 20 yards after a catch, setting up his own touchdown a few plays later, a one-handed snag in the back of the end zone.
On Penn’s next drive, Starkey had another impressive catch, which gave Penn the chance to score — but the hopes of mounting a comeback were dashed as Flowers fumbled away a would-be touchdown on the goal line, which resulted in a touchback and Harvard possession.
"We came into this game having the least turnovers in the nation," Penn coach Ray Priore said. "We have been really good at not turning the ball over, and today that changed the game."
This would be the nail in the coffin for Penn as Harvard would run down the clock while collecting more scores, Dean ending the game with four touchdowns and 316 yards in the air, while Borguet racked up over 117 yards on the ground.
"We didn't do a good job of tackling today," Priore said.
Sayin finally started throwing the ball downfield late in the second half, which led to penalties against the Crimson, but they were too little, too late for a game largely decided in the first half.
The importance of the loss is magnified when considering that it was the final home game for many Penn players who are graduating in the spring.
"It definitely leaves a salty feeling," said Starkey, who finished his final Franklin Field game with eight catches for 117 yards and a score.
This loss puts Penn in a murky position in the Ivy League standings. No longer able to claim the title outright, the Quakers will need to win next week at Princeton and hope that Harvard can top Yale in “The Game.” Even then, it would still be a four-way tie atop the conference, which may still come as disappointing to a team that started its season 6-0.