PHILADELPHIA — In the other football game of note to Yale fans this weekend, Harvard defeated Penn 34–24 to clinch at least a share of the 2014 Ivy League title.
The Quakers (1–8, 1–5 Ivy) put up a stronger fight against undefeated Harvard than most expected.
“Today, [Penn] played like a team that expected to win,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said. “They gave us all we could handle and more.”
The game marked Quaker coach Al Bagnoli’s last home game. The 23-year veteran was honored both before the game and during halftime.
Penn center Trent Rivera said that this game was special for the seniors, and that the team had a lot of fire going into the game — and in no place was the fire as clear as in the play of Quaker quarterback Alek Torgerson. At times, the Crimson defense — ranked first in the Ivy League — struggled to control Torgerson. The Penn quarterback rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries, including one touchdown.
Torgerson also outgained Harvard quarterback Scott Hosch — standing in for the injured Conner Hempel — through the air. The Quakers had twice as many red zone trips and won the turnover margin, but the Harvard offense put points up when it mattered most. Two missed field goals also cost the Quakers.
“It’s not a good time, in week nine, for them to have these issues,” said Bagnoli of the kicking unit. “I was as surprised as anyone.”
Penn elected to receive the opening kickoff, but after Harvard safety Scott Peters tipped Torgerson’s first pass, the Quakers went three-and-out. Harvard deflected the ensuing punt, and on the Crimson’s first offensive play, running back Paul Stanton took it all the way in from the Penn 42.
After its hot start, Harvard attempted to keep the momentum going with an onside kick. Penn recovered it at the Harvard 49-yard line and Torgerson drove the Quakers to the 12-yard line, but stalled. The Quakers settled for a field goal to cap off an 11-play, four-minute drive.
Hosch threw an interception on his first pass of the game, and Penn quickly capitalized for seven points. Torgerson hit wide receiver Spencer Kulcsar for 22 yards on play-action. Then fellow Quaker receiver Adam Strouss ran the ball to the Crimson one-yard line. On fourth-and-goal, Strouss lobbed the ball over a goal-line scrum to tight end Ryan O’Malley for the Quakers’ first touchdown of the day.
On the Crimson’s next possession, Hosch turned the ball over for the second time in the quarter. Quaker strong safety Ian Dobbins intercepted the ball and took it back to the Harvard 29.
Torgerson nearly gave the ball back on the next play, but Crimson defensive end Miles McCollum dropped the would-be interception. Despite a 22-yard pass to receiver Connor Scott that took the Quakers to the eight-yard line, they failed to take advantage of the situation. Kicker Jimmy Gammill missed the 37-yard field goal, and the score remained 10–7 Penn.
“We’re not quite good enough to overcome some of the things, missed opportunities [and] big plays given where we are as a program,” Bagnoli said. “We left some points on the field. Against a good team, you can’t do that.”
After trading punts, Stanton put the Crimson back on the board with a 75-yard touchdown run on the second play of the drive.
The Crimson scored its first field goal after a shanked Quaker punt placed Harvard at its own 47-yard line. After a 10-play, four minute drive, kicker Andrew Flesher put the ball through the uprights from 21 yards out with just over two minutes remaining.
Penn’s two-minute drive stalled just past midfield with back-to-back Crimson sacks by defensive end Zach Hodges and linebacker Connor Sheehan. At halftime, Harvard led Penn by a score of 17–10.
The Crimson opened the half with a three-and-out, and Penn turned around to march the ball into the end zone. Torgerson completed a 17-yard pass over the middle to Kulcsar, and the Quakers tied the game on the next play with a touchdown pass to tight end Mitch King.
“We knew there were holes in their defense we needed to exploit, in their secondary where we knew we could pass on them,” Torgerson said.
The Crimson began its next drive pinned on their own 11-yard line. Hosch had to fall on a fumbled snap and Harvard was forced to punt from deep in its end zone after three plays.
The Quakers then found the end zone on their subsequent possession in less than a minute. Torgerson lofted a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Watson, setting Penn up in the red zone, and the quarterback then ran the ball in for the touchdown on the next play. The Quakers led by a full score for the first time today.
On their next drive, Penn steadily drove towards the end zone, thanks to a huge conversion on third-and-eight, but Gammill missed his second field goal of the day.
Harvard regained possession and Flesher knocked the ball through from 38 yards out to put the Cantabs within four. The Crimson’s largest gain on the three-and-a-half minute drive came from a 27 yard Hosch-Fischer connection.
The Crimson regained the ball and the lead after a fumbled snap set the Quakers back thirteen yards. Stanton turned a bubble screen into a 19-yard gain. After that, an unnecessary roughness penalty against Penn put the Cantabs on the cusp of the red zone. A false start against right guard Anthony Fabiano could not slow the Crimson, and Hosch found tight end Tyler Hamblin for 28-yard touchdown.
Harvard’s defense held fast on third-and-one, and another short Quaker punt put the Crimson on its own 44-yard line. Stanton eventually scored for Harvard, pulling a Penn defender into the end zone with him on a 14-yard touchdown run, his third of the day.
Penn’s punt on its subsequent drive was tipped, and Harvard again started from within its own territory. But running back Semar Smith, who took over for Stanton on this drive, fumbled on his third attempt. Kenny Thomas recovered the ball for Penn.
Torgerson and the Quakers got the ball back with just under three minutes remaining in the game, and were forced to stay on the field for a fourth-and-nine. Running back Brian Shoenauer was only a few yards short of the first down, however, and Harvard took over on downs with two-and-a-half minutes to play.
The Crimson ran out the clock to hand Penn a 34–24 defeat. Stanton finished the day with 235 yards on the ground, good enough for third-most by a Crimson rusher in one game.
Bagnoli noted that he thought Yale and Harvard would be a good matchup for the two teams.
“I think that would be a really good game,” Bagnoli said. “I think Harvard has really good balance between offense and defense. It’s going to be a really good matchup between two excellent teams. They’re two very dynamic, two very mature teams.”
The Bulldogs next face off against the Crimson on Nov. 22 in The Game. With a win, the Elis guarantee themselves a share of the Ivy League championship. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass.