On Saturday, the Penn football team did something no other team has managed to do in 106 weeks: defeat Harvard. The Quakers stunned No. 12 Crimson at home, winning 35–25 and creating a three-way tie at the top of the Ivy League. With Penn, Harvard and Dartmouth all 5–1 in conference play, a win by each program in the final game of the season will ensure at least a share of the crown.
The historic win, which broke Harvard’s 22-game winning streak that dates back to 2013, saw a powerful effort from the Quakers, who took advantage of several uncharacteristic mistakes from the Crimson.
“In the end, they just made a few more plays than us,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said in the post-game press conference. “Specifically, in a big, tough game like that, you’ve got to come out on the good side of the turnover margin. We had two good drives going at the end where we coughed up the ball.”
Three turnovers, two failed two-point conversion attempts, a blocked field goal and a missed extra point all impeded Harvard’s league-leading offense, which rallied from a 21–6 first-quarter deficit but could not muster a response to two second-half touchdowns from the Quakers.
Harvard quarterback Scott Hosch, whose first career loss as a starter was Saturday, said major winds during the first half could not excuse his performance. Hosch finished 20-for-30 with 246 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Hosch was also sacked five times after taking five sacks the prior eight games combined.
Penn succeeded in containing Hosch, an excellent scrambler, to -2 yards on 12 carries. Quaker linebacker Donald Panciello said after the game that the team was able to get into Hosch’s head by applying pressure early on.
“Once he scrambled and saw the pressure, he didn’t want a part of it,” Panciello said. “Our guys did a great job, and our pursuit stopped him from getting yards on the scramble.”
Hosch was not the only Harvard player to throw a touchdown: wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley, a serious candidate for Ivy League Rookie of the Year, also picked up an aerial touchdown, lobbing a 28-yard pass into the end zone off a double-reverse to give Harvard a 25–21 advantage, its only lead of the game. The touchdown was on the exact same play that the Crimson ran against Yale last year to take a 17–7 lead in the third quarter.
Shelton-Mosley’s versatility, though, was outshone by that of Justin Watson, Penn’s sophomore wideout who finished with 249 total yards, outgaining even Quaker quarterback Alek Torgersen’s total of 245 yards.
“We knew the shots we could take downfield,” Torgersen said. “Obviously Justin is a great player and we had good matchups on the inside and the outside, so we were going to take advantage of those all day. We weren’t going to hit all of them, but we were going to hit the majority, and that really showed.”
Watson’s 149 yards on seven receptions is consistent with his eight-catch, 105-yard performance against Yale. However, his career-best 100 rushing yards, which came mostly from a 79-yard scoring run, made it a particularly standout performance. That touchdown came a minute into the fourth quarter to make the score 35–25, ultimately sealing the win.
Harvard’s ground game, meanwhile, did not see the same success. The league’s leading rusher, Paul Stanton Jr., who entered the game averaging 91.9 yards per contest, was held to 74 yards on 13 carries. Stanton also committed a costly fumble on Penn’s 11-yard line in the second quarter.
Fellow running back Semart Smith also fumbled in the red zone, coughing up the ball on Penn’s 18-yard line in the fourth quarter and essentially killing any chance the team had to come back.
Penn football head coach Ray Priore also pointed out that Harvard trailed for much of the game, unusual for a team that defeated its opponents by an average of 28.1 points this season, and said that “chasing points” forced the Crimson out of rhythm and shook their confidence.
Penn’s first three touchdowns all came in quick succession in the first quarter, due in large part to excellent field position. Torgersen ran the first two in himself but took to the air for the third, passing to Watson for a 68-yard score.
“If you look at it … they scored on short field,” Priore said. “They had the blocked punt, the whiffed punt that went only 13 or 14 yards. They were scoring on a short field, and they’re a good, explosive team, but anybody inside the 50 can get there … You never know when the critical play will be.”
The Game is now nearly a must-win for the Crimson, which looks to capture its third-consecutive league title.
A victory either by Penn against Cornell — currently tied for seventh place in the Ivy League — or by Dartmouth against Princeton would mean that a 6–1 conference record is necessary for a share of a title.
“I mean, absolutely,” Crimson captain and linebacker Matt Koran said when asked if the loss lends special significance to The Game. “Our destiny is still in our hands, and we can still end up winning a championship, but we’re going to come back strong against Yale next week.”