Penn (6-3, 5-1 Ivy) at Cornell (4-5, 2-4 Ivy)
Schoellkopf Field, Ithaca, N.Y.
Saturday, Noon, Fox College Sports
For the Penn football team, it all comes down to this. After beating Harvard in dramatic fashion last week, the Quakers are one win away from capturing at least a share of their second straight Ivy League championship. Here’s a look at their final game of the 2016 season:
After allowing Harvard to come back and tie the game on a deep ball and trick-play two-point conversion in the final minutes of last week’s Ivy League showdown at Franklin Field, Penn responded with a drive for the ages to hand the Crimson their first Ivy League loss of the season and move into a three-way tie for first place in the conference. And to nobody’s surprise, it was the dynamic duo of quarterback Alek Torgersen and wide receiver Justin Watson that led the way and connected for the go-ahead touchdown that sent Penn to a 27-14 win over Harvard — the Quakers’ second straight year upsetting a nationally ranked Crimson team. Perhaps of equal importance was the performance of the defense as the unit scored two touchdowns, including one on the final play of the game to put a cherry on top of the win, and finished with six sacks, with three coming from defensive end Louis Vecchio, who also scored one of the TDs. Penn has now won six of its last seven after two straight losses to the start the year.
The Big Red snapped a five-game losing streak with a dramatic 42-40 win over New York rival Columbia last week. A pair of sophomores led the way with Chris Walker rushing for 179 yards and three touchdowns and Dalton Banks completing 24 of 37 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns while running for a third. But while those two players rank second in the Ivies in rushing and passing, respectively, Cornell’s defense has struggled throughout the year, having allowed 459.1 yards per game, which ranks last in the Ivies and 110th out of 122 teams in the FCS. Still in rebuilding mode under fourth-year head coach David Archer, Cornell’s four wins on the season matched the victory total of the previous two years combined, and the Big Red also finished with a winning road record (3-2) for the first time since 1994.
In what is the fifth-most played rivalry in college football, Penn holds a 71-46-5 lead heading into the 123rd all-time meeting. The Quakers are 13-12-1 at Schoellkopf Field but have won eight of their last nine, as well as four straight, up in Ithaca.
Storyline to watch
Although Penn had a win to remember against Harvard last week, it wasn’t because of its rushing game as running back Tre Solomon was bottled up to the tune of 26 yards on 12 carries. And as a team, the Quakers finished with a mere 21 yards while relying on their defense and passing attack to get the job done. They’ll want to correct that and focus on controlling the pace of the game and slowly moving the chains in freezing, unpleasant Ithaca. And they should be primed to do just that against a rushing defense that ranks last in the Ivies, allowing 188.8 yards per game.
What’s at stake?
With one game left in the 2016 season no matter what — Ivy teams are not allowed to go the FCS playoffs due to an archaic rule, and there are no league playoffs if teams finish tied — Penn, Harvard and Princeton are tied for first with 5-1 records. And they all have games against teams with losing records with Harvard playing rival Yale and Princeton facing Dartmouth. The most likely scenario is all three teams winning and sharing a piece of the Ivy League championship. That also means a loss for Penn would very likely end its quest for a title. Meanwhile, the Quakers still have a chance to claim the outright crown, but only if Harvard and Princeton are both upset.
In their final time playing together, Torgersen and Watson will shred Cornell’s leaky defense and lift the Quakers to a share of their record-tying 18th Ivy League championship and their first back-to-back crowns since 2009-10.
Penn 35, Cornell 14