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With its 34–24 win against a struggling 1–7 Penn squad, the Harvard football team clinched a share of its second consecutive Ivy League championship and dampened the Quakers’ goodbye to longtime head coach Al Bagnoli.
“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 Quakers (1–8, 1–5 Ivy) gave the visiting Crimson everything they had, surprising the undefeated Cantabs (9–0, 7–0 Ivy) by taking a one-score lead into the fourth quarter. Harvard’s second-ranked offense looked shaken at times, with junior quarterback Scott Hosch under center in place of injured senior Conner Hempel.
Hempel’s back injury kept him out earlier in the year, but he returned to action against Princeton on Oct. 25. Harvard won 49–7, but Hempel injured his shoulder in the following game against Dartmouth. He has not played since Nov. 1.
In his place, Hosch threw two interceptions in the first quarter against Penn, but ultimately rebounded to complete 65 percent of his passes for 174 yards and a touchdown.
The Crimson secondary, best in the Ivy League in passing yards allowed, ceded 212 yards to Penn’s passers, including several long plays. Sophomore quarterback Alek Torgersen hit wide receivers Spencer Kulscar and Connor Scott for 22 yards and Justin Watson for 25 yards.
“We knew there were holes in their defense we needed to exploit, in their secondary where we knew we could pass on them,” Torgersen said.
The true difference in the game was Harvard running back Paul Stanton Jr., whose 279 all-purpose yards and three scores carried the day. Stanton’s first rush from scrimmage, on Harvard’s second play of the game, was a 42-yard touchdown. He later added touchdowns from 75 and 14 yards out en route to running for the third-most yards in Harvard’s history.
Bagnoli called these long rushes “home runs” and said that Penn made too many missteps.
“We knew we had to play well for 60 minutes, but we made a couple too many mistakes,” Bagnoli said. “We left some points on the field. Against a good team, you can’t do that.”
Two missed field goals cost the Quakers. Although they had more passing yards, forced more turnovers and entered the red zone twice as often as Harvard, Penn could not quite pull off the upset.
The Penn offense, however, did its part. Harvard allowed more than 18 points for the first time this season.
In the end, the Quakers’ defense was the team’s undoing. The Cantabs rushed for 86 yards and scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to preserve its perfect record, as well as its 10-game conference winning streak dating back to last year. Murphy attributed Harvard’s success this season to players stepping up and performing when they needed to.
The Harvard-Penn matchup marked Bagnoli’s final home game at Franklin Field. The legendary coach was honored both before the game and at halftime. Despite the disappointing season, he remained upbeat about both the game and the program.
“We’ve been reasonably successful,” Bagnoli said. “Very few things have gone according to script. It’s been one of those weird years.”
Murphy was complimentary of his Pennsylvanian counterpart, crediting his success and his longevity.
Bagnoli was on the Quaker sideline for 23 seasons, nine of which culminated in outright Ivy League titles. He is the winningest coach in school history, and his winning percentage of 0.698 is behind only Murphy’s 0.703 among active Ivy League coaches.
“[Bagnoli is] the standard by which all other coaches will be compared to in this league,” Murphy said.
Murphy and the Crimson face Yale on Nov. 22 for the 131st rendition of The Game. A Harvard win guarantees an outright Ivy League championship, while a Yale win would ensure the Bulldogs get their first share of the title since 2006.