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.”

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008


That’s why football is a week-to-week game. Forget about momentum.

Temple found that out the hard way. After coming alive in a big road win over East Carolina last week, the Owls were humbled when a fourth-quarter rally fell short Saturday in a 28-24 homecoming loss to Connecticut at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Owls had one final shot at the victory with a drive in the final minute, but a Logan Marchi heave to the end zone was broken up.

The loss dropped Temple back under .500 at 3-4 (1-3 American Athletic Conference). UConn moved to 2-5 (2-2) with the victory.

• Say what you want about Temple quarterback Marchi (and you surely will after this game), but the guy is a fighter. Whether things are going his way or not, he continues to try to search for his receivers and attempt to squeeze the ball into those windows on the field. He made it two consecutive games with 300-plus yards passing as he was 33 of 54 for 356 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday.

• The game marked Temple’s first homecoming loss in nearly a decade. TU hadn’t suffered a homecoming defeat since a 7-3 loss to Western Michigan on Sept. 27, 2008. On that day, former Eagles DB Jaiquawn Jarrett was beaten in coverage on a double move in the third quarter for the game’s lone touchdown. Coming into Saturday, the Owls had won eight straight homecoming matchups by an average margin of 19.3 points.

• There was a rare sighting for Temple at the Linc: a rushing touchdown from a tailback. In fact, there were two. David Hood, who became the first Owls tailback to score on a run this season in last week’s rout of East Carolina, punched it in from one yard out to open the scoring in the first quarter. Ryquell Armstead weaved his way into the end zone for a 10-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter.

• Delvon Randall is simply a playmaker. The Owls’ leading tackler, Randall added another five stops in Saturday’s win. The junior DB also made a beautiful play along the sideline in the first quarter when he undercut an out route for an interception. It marked Randall’s third straight game with a pick. The Owls only have four interceptions this season and Randall has three of them.

• My colleague Greg Paone touched on college football’s targeting rule a couple of weeks ago (see story)We agree on pretty much all of the nuts and bolts of the rule. I’m glad it’s in place to protect players from violent and unnecessary hits. However, the more I see it called each week — and it seems like there is at least one in every game now — the more I’m starting to dislike the implementation. Temple defensive lineman Sharif Finch was ejected for targeting on Saturday when he went high on Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs on a third-quarter touchdown pass. Shirreffs sold the hit by jerking his head back as he fell to the ground, but it was definitely worthy of a penalty. Was it a late hit? Yes. A bone-headed hit? Absolutely. But one worthy of Temple losing a top defensive player for the remainder of the game? I don’t think so.

• Speaking of Shirreffs, it’s easy to see why the Huskies have the best passing offense in the AAC. He didn’t show it with yardage in this tilt (just 105), but he was able to connect on three touchdowns through the air. He also added 39 yards on the ground, including a key run up the middle late in the fourth quarter.

• The Owls simply aren’t a good enough team to overcome 12 penalties for 117 yards.

• Like any other major college football game around the country, Saturday’s matchup at the Linc had scouts from NFL teams listed to attend. Of course, the Eagles were listed for several scouts in their home stadium. While the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were also among those expected to have representatives at the game, there was only one other team labeled for more than one scout besides the Eagles — the New York Giants. At 0-5, they can certainly use all the help they can get right now.

• Temple will look to rebound when the Owls travel to play their final non-conference opponent in Army at 12 p.m. next Saturday.

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

USA Today Images

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

Temple (3-3, 1-2 American) vs. UConn (1-4, 0-3 American)
Lincoln Financial Field, ESPNews
Noon Saturday

Last time out
Temple beat East Carolina, 34-10, last Saturday.

UConn lost to Memphis, 70-31, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Last week, quarterback Logan Marchi finally got on track with his first 300-yard game of the season against East Carolina. This week, the redshirt sophomore will face UConn, the team he initially committed to in high school under former coach Paul Pasqualoni. Marchi was then denied after a coaching change was made. The Huskies have the worst passing defense in the AAC, giving up 399.8 passing yards per game, and have allowed 19 touchdowns through the air in 2017. If Marchi can play well for a second week in a row, look for Temple’s offense to put up some points. 

Another matchup to look at is UConn’s passing attack against Temple’s defense. The Huskies’ boast the best passing offense in terms of yards in the AAC, averaging 325.8 yards per game, but have only scored nine touchdowns this year. Temple, on the other hand, allows the eighth-most passing yards in the conference (253 yards per game), but is ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 26 points per game. Connecticut must convert drives into touchdowns against this Owls defense if it wants to compete.

What it means
Temple’s hopes to reach the AAC championship game might not be realistic anymore but its bowl hopes are still alive. A win against UConn would put the Owls just two victories away from becoming bowl-eligible, which after their start would be good for Owl fans.

Series history
Temple holds the 12-5 series advantage over Connecticut, and is currently on a three-game win streak.

What’s next?
Temple travels to Army.

UConn hosts Tulsa. 

Penn (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) at Columbia (4-0, 1-0 Ivy)
Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium
1:30 p.m. Saturday

Last time out
Penn lost at Central Connecticut State, 42-21, Saturday.

Columbia defeated Marist, 41-17, Saturday.

Scouting report
Penn’s strength is its rushing attack. They rank second in the Ivy League averaging 204 yards per game on the ground. Karekin Brooks has 543 yards rushing and five touchdowns so far this season. Getting the ground game going will be key for the Quakers this week.

Columbia defense has been strong so far this season. The Lions rank second in the Ivy League in total defense only allowing 316 yards per game and are third in the Ivy in pass defense. The Lions allow 194.8 yards per game through the air.

Series history
This is the 96th meeting between the teams. The Quakers hold a 73-21-1 advantage and have won the last 19 editions.

What’s next?
Penn hosts Yale.

Columbia is at Dartmouth.

Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) at James Madison (5-0, 2-0 CAA)
Bridgeforth Stadium
6 p.m. Saturday

Last time out

Villanova defeated Maine, 31-0, Saturday.

James Madison beat Delaware, 20-10, Saturday.

Scouting report
Villanova has allowed just 1.6 yards per carry and 52 rushing yards per game this season. The Wildcats boast a strong scoring defense as well, the best in the Colonial allowing only nine points per game.

James Madison boasts the second-best rushing offense in the CAA averaging 223 yards per game and is second in scoring defense. The Dukes allow just 10 points per game to opposing offenses. Look for this game to be defensive showdown.

Series history
This is the 26th meeting between the teams. James Madison leads the series 14-11 and won 20-7 last season.

What’s next?
Villanova hosts Elon next Saturday.

James Madison travels to William & Mary next Saturday.