Penn dramatically beats Harvard to keep Ivy title hopes alive

Penn Athletics

Penn dramatically beats Harvard to keep Ivy title hopes alive


Alek Torgersen made the most of his final drive at Franklin Field.

With Friday night’s Ivy League showdown vs. Harvard — and the conference title — hanging in the balance, Penn’s standout senior quarterback orchestrated a masterful two-minute drill to lift the Quakers to a 27-14 victory, handing the Crimson their first Ivy loss.

And as usual, he found his favorite target, capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to star junior Justin Watson with 15 seconds left to keep Penn’s hopes of winning at least a share of its second straight Ivy League championship alive.

The passing touchdown was Torgersen’s 51st at Penn, a new school record. He finished with 263 passing yards, 120 of which went to Watson, who hauled in 10 catches.

“We had one last time to light up the Frank,” Torgersen said, “and I couldn’t be happier to throw a touchdown pass to win a game vs. Harvard to keep us in contention for the Ivy title. It feels good right now.”

The Quakers sealed the win in emphatic fashion with their second defensive touchdown of the game as Taylor Hendrickson returned a fumble 18 yards as time expired.

Penn (6-3, 5-1) and Harvard (7-2, 5-1) are now tied for first place in the Ivies with one game to go, along with Princeton, which shut out the Quakers last week. If all three teams finish up with wins, it will mark the second straight season that three teams shared the Ivy title after Penn, Harvard and Dartmouth all won a piece of the 2015 crown.

If Harvard and Penn both earn a share of the title, the two dominant programs will have combined to have won 30 Ivy championships over the last 31 years.

“We took a tough shot last week up at Princeton,” second-year Penn head coach Ray Priore said. “And I’m so proud of how they rebounded.”

On a cold and windy night under the lights of Franklin Field, Harvard rallied to tie the game with just 3:23 remaining on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Joe Viviano to Joseph Foster and an ensuing successful two-point conversion attempt on a reverse handoff and halfback pass.

Before that drive, Penn’s defense — which had struggled for much of the season — was dominant and opportunistic, especially in the first half. 

The only touchdown before halftime came when defensive end Louis Vecchio tipped a ball to himself at the line of scrimmage, picked it off and returned it 40 yards to paydirt to give the Quakers a 7-3 lead at halftime.

“The first thing I thought about when I got the ball was don’t fumble,” said Vecchio, who also finished with three of the team’s six sacks and a forced fumble. “The other thing was, ‘I gotta get in the end zone as fast as I can.’ Everything happened so fast. Everything was just reaction.”

Cornerback Mason Williams also intercepted two passes — one that stalled Harvard’s final drive of the first half and another that prevented the Crimson from scoring midway through the second quarter after Penn fumbled a punt and gave Harvard great field position. 

Penn’s offense — which has been explosive behind the three-pronged attack of Torgersen, Watson and running back Tre Solomon most of the year — finished with only 109 yards and four first downs in the first half. And heading into the second half, the Quakers’ offense had gone scoreless for eight straight quarters.

But Penn snapped out of its funk shortly after halftime with Torgersen — one of the seniors honored before the game for playing in his final home game — throwing a nice looping ball down the sideline to sophomore receiver Christian Pearson for a 47-yard touchdown with 10:30 left in the third quarter, putting the Quakers up 14-3. 

That looked to be enough for Penn’s defense, which came up with a big fourth-down stop late in the third quarter and held the Crimson to another field goal early in the fourth quarter. But then both teams rallied for huge scoring drives, setting up a wild finish between two of the league’s top teams and a huge final game for Penn at frosty Cornell.

“As we said to the boys, ‘Be safe tonight and we’ll get to work on Cornell tomorrow,’” Priore said. “The one guarantee about next weekend is it’s not going to be sunny.”

Friday’s game was played under a dark backdrop with some students protesting outside Franklin Field and briefly inside the stadium on the same day black freshmen students were added to a hateful GroupMe message group filled with racial slurs. Penn has been a hotbed of protest all week after the election of Donald Trump, a 1968 Wharton graduate. The Penn Band, known for comedic antics, called for unity before the game began, saying over the Franklin Field loudspeaker, “We need to support each other as a community, now more than ever.”

Priore said the team had not talked about the election much this week but was pleased to learn that many students wanted to come to Franklin Field on Friday night, even if some were delayed entry because of the protest.

“We don’t just play for ourselves,” Priore said. “We play for the whole Penn family, the whole Penn community. That’s really important to us.”

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

No surprises on the Main Line and well, the Quakers have quite the hill to climb to advance.

Villanova on Sunday night was awarded the 1-seed in the East Region and will face the winner of the LIU Brooklyn/Radford game Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. on TNT.

The Wildcats have been a top-two seed since 2014 and it's the second straight year they're a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was the No. 1 overall seed in last year's tournament.

Penn was named the 16th seed in the Midwest Region and will face the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday at 2 p.m. on TBS in Wichita, Kansas.

Steve Donahue has the Quakers back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 in his third season as Penn's head coach.

The Quakers are 24-8 and this will be their 24th-ever appearance in the tournament.

'Nova survived a scare from Providence on Saturday night to win its second straight Big East title and its third in the past four years.

If the Wildcats beat LIU Brooklyn/Radford, they'll face the winner of the No. 8-seeded Virginia Tech and No. 9 seed Alabama. Purdue is the No. 2 seed in the East.

Also in the East are No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 Wichita State.

Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

USA Today Images

Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. With the regular season ending this weekend, this will be the final Fastbreak Friday column of the season.

Temple (16-13, 8-9 AAC) at Tulsa (18-11, 11-6 AAC), Sunday at 3 p.m.
 It’s been a rough season for the Temple Owls. Yes, there was that win over ranked Wichita State in the middle of a 5-game win streak. But after the stumbles down the stretch, that seems like a distant memory. 

Of course, the bad can be washed away with an AAC tournament run, but first, the Owls need to close out on the road against Tulsa. 

Given their track record on the road, things don’t line up well for Fran Dunphy’s crew. Plus, it’s dollar dog, dollar soda and dollar popcorn night at Tulsa. That’s a delicious trifecta. 

But there is still some fight in this team. Quintin Rose and Shizz Alston have been everything the Owls have needed, and throw in Nate Pierre-Louis and you have a nice core back for next season.

Temple 71,  Tulsa 70

Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Yale (14-14, 7-5 Ivy), Friday at 7 p.m.
Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Brown (11-14, 4-8 Ivy), Saturday at 6 p.m.
Penn enters the final weekend of the regular season in control of its own destiny. If the Quakers beat Yale and Brown on the road they'll win their first Ivy League championship since 2007 and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, which will be played at the Palestra next weekend. It all adds up to Penn having the inside track to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.

This seems like an appropriate time to salute the job done by head coach Steve Donahue. In just his third season at Penn, he has the Quakers poised to reclaim top billing in the Ivy League. He inherited a team that finished 9-19 in the 2014-2015 season and promptly began a swift rebuilding project. Penn went 11-17 in Donahue's first season, 13-14 in his second year, and now stand at 21-7 overall and 11-1 in conference play. Look for those winning ways to continue this weekend and for Donahue and company to do some celebrating.

Penn 73, Yale 66
Penn 69, Brown 60

La Salle (13-17, 7-10 A-10) at St. Joseph's (14-15, 9-8 A-10), Saturday at 2 p.m.
La Salle and St. Joe's will each try to keep the good times rolling heading into next week's A-10 Tournament. La Salle has won three of its last four games, including a convincing 18-point win over Dayton earlier this week. St. Joseph's meanwhile has a 5-1 record in its last six games and just recorded arguably one of the most stunning victories of this college basketball season.

The Hawks went on the road and beat No. 18 Rhode Island, 78-48, on Tuesday, spoiling the Rams' senior night in the process. It was the first road win over a ranked team for St. Joseph's since 1979 and it came in shockingly easy fashion. I expect the Hawks to build on that momentum this weekend and avenge a three-point loss to La Salle earlier this season.

St. Joseph's 74, La Salle 68 

Drexel (12-19, 6-12 CAA) at James Madison (10-21, 6-12 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m. in first round of CAA Tournament
The Dragons' season has been marked with highs and lows. While it may seem like a marginal improvement — with 12 wins to their credit compared to nine last season — they did double their conference win total. 

Also, Drexel beat the top two teams in the CAA this season as well as set an NCAA Division-I record for the largest comeback ever when they erased a 34-point deficit against Delaware. 

But the Dragons did have two separate losing streaks that would cause any coach to lose sleep, one of five straight and the other of four straight losses. 

Drexel begins the quest for its first-ever CAA tournament title against JMU, then Charleston awaits on basically home turf. Go ahead and make it a baker’s dozen, Dragons. 

Drexel 76, JMU 74

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 30-11
Amy Fadool: 22-21