CAMBRIDGE, MA. — Harvard was able to send off its largest senior class in recent history with one last home win Saturday against Penn, outlasting the Quakers 38–30.
The Crimson (8–1, 5–1 Ivy) faced a resilient Penn squad (4–5, 3–3) on Senior Day, as both teams fought for the chance to stay in the running for the Ivy League title. In the early goings of the game, it looked as if Harvard would run right through the Quakers in its last contest before The Game against Yale, leading 38–0 late into the third quarter.
“We couldn’t do anything right in the first half, and again we gave up a lot of plays,” Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said. “And they executed great and in the second half we executed great … it’s a funny game when these two teams play … fortunate[ly] for us, our kids never gave up because it had a chance to get pretty ugly there at one point.”
The Crimson scored first with 3:41 remaining in the first quarter on a touchdown pass from quarterback Conner Hempel to tight end Cameron Brate following a missed field goal by Penn.
From there, the floodgates opened for Harvard, as the Crimson scored the next 31 points of the game. Early in the second quarter, Harvard scored on a quarterback run by Hempel, giving the Crimson a two-score lead.
Hempel provided the Crimson with a dual threat throughout the game, completing 21–25 of his passes while leading the team in rushing with 65 yards on 12 carries.
Both teams punted on their next drives before Harvard had to settle for a field goal with 3:01 remaining in the half. Penn’s next possession ended in the Quakers’ block being blocked, giving the Crimson possession at the Penn 28 yard line with less than two minutes until halftime. Harvard running back Paul Stanton Jr. took advantage of the opportunity to run the ball into the end zone to put Harvard up 23–0 with 40 seconds remaining in the half.
Ragone then threw his first interception of the year, giving the Crimson another opportunity to score. A clean pass from Hempel to tight end Ryan Halvorson and a converted extra point by kicker David Mothander resulted in a 31–0 lead for Harvard at halftime.
“We had great play calls, great game plan, and we were switching it up,” Hempel said. “Defense didn’t really know what was coming at them. I think our line brought it, everything they had today. It showed a lot up front. We were running the ball well and that makes it easy on me to throw the ball well.”
The Crimson looked as if they would coast to a win. Harvard netted 290 total yards in the first half compared to Penn’s 56, running 44 offensive plays to the Quakers’ 24. Not only was the offense dominant, but the defense was as well, not allowing a single third-down conversion from Penn.
Harvard had the opening possession of the second half and proceeded to march down the field again. Stanton scored his second touchdown of the day, giving him 13 touchdowns on the season.
But a game that once seemed out of reach for Penn suddenly became tight thanks to 30 straight unanswered points from the Quaker offense.
Late in the third quarter, Penn was able to enter the red zone for the first time all day. Desperate for a score, quarterback Ryan Becker, who replaced Billy Ragone to start the second half, converted a fourth down, and quarterback Adam Strouss entered the game to score a touchdown with 4:25 remaining in the quarter. The score broke Harvard’s streak of six straight scoreless quarters by an opponent.
Harvard was unable to convert a first down the rest of the game as the Penn defense stepped up. Strouss picked up his second touchdown of the day with 14:19 left in the game, cutting into the Crimson lead, 28–14.
A penalty from Harvard on Penn’s next drive gave the Quakers an automatic first down, and Penn fullback Ben Challgren ran into the end zone after receiving a pass from Becker later in the drive. After a two-point conversion off a pass from Becker to running back Ryan Ripp, Penn trailed Harvard 38–22 with 8:30 remaining.
Penn scored again less than three minutes later when wide receiver Conner Scott received a pass from Becker. Tight end Ryan O’Malley then caught a pass in the end zone for another two-point conversion to make it an eight-point game.
Penn used its timeouts on Harvard’s ensuing possession to slow down the clock, and after the fifth consecutive three-and-out by the Crimson, the Quakers got the ball back with 3:42 remaining.
Finally, Harvard’s defense made a stand, and Penn faced its third fourth down of the game. Becker threw a pass that was tipped by his intended receiver, but Quaker wide receiver Ryan Mitchell miraculously came up with the ball at Harvard’s 47-yard line. Penn made it all the way to the Crimson 20, converting another fourth down along the way, before Harvard broke up a pass on Penn’s fifth fourth down of the game with 16 seconds left. Harvard was finally able to exhale, coming away with a 38–30 victory, keeping its conference title hopes alive.
“A year from now, all it is is a big win. And 20 years from now, hopefully all we’ll remember is the 38 to nothing part,“ head coach Tim Murphy said. “The bottom line is that momentum is really really an elusive thing.”
The Crimson will head to New Haven to face Yale in the 130th edition of The Game on Saturday. A win by Harvard over Yale and loss by Princeton to Dartmouth in the final weekend of the regular season will give the Crimson a share of the Ancient Eight crown.
“It’s always a pride game, the motivation is unquestioned, and for all those reasons it’s such an easy game to prepare for,” Murphy said. “It’s a unique dynamic in respect to the Harvard-Yale game.”
The Yale-Harvard game will kick off on Saturday at noon from the Yale Bowl.