PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—The Ivy League football championship is headed back to Philadelphia.
By successfully neutralizing Harvard's greatest strengths on Saturday, Penn did what it could not do in the de facto Ancient Eight title game a year ago and earned itself at least a share of the league championship with a 30-21 win at Franklin Field.
In many ways, the result of the contest was a tale of the two offensive lines.
Penn’s blocking dominated a Harvard front four that came into the contest leading the FCS in run defense and sacks per game. The Quakers rushed for 234 yards on the afternoon while the Crimson failed to record a sack for the first time all season.
Meanwhile, Harvard’s offensive line lost senior starting center Jack Holuba to injury and left senior quarterback Colton Chapple under heavy pressure all day. The swarming Penn pass rush hit its peak with three consecutive sacks on the Crimson's final drive, including a game-clinching safety.
Harvard (7-2, 4-2 Ivy) came into the contest as a heavy favorite but now will need to beat Yale and hope Penn (5-4, 5-1) loses next weekend at Cornell to earn a championship share of its own. With the victory, the Quakers became the first team with four losses to earn at least a share of the Ancient Eight championship since Dartmouth in 1982.
"This was a terrific team victory against a terrific program," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "We have the greatest respect for Harvard.... When you can win against them, you know you've accomplished something."
The Quakers lost starting quarterback Billy Ragone to a dislocated ankle and scored just nine points in the second half, but that turned out to be enough, as their defense shut down the nation’s fourth-highest-powered offense over the final two quarters. The Crimson finished the game just 4 of 13 on third down, and Chapple threw two interceptions for the first time this season.
"Penn was tremendously physical all day," senior tight end Kyle Juszczyk said. "All the credit has to go to them. We didn't execute."
Meanwhile, Ragone shredded the Crimson defense with his arm and legs, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for 96 yards and a score before getting knocked out. Quakers halfback Lyle Marsh also had a big game, collecting a career-high 133 yards on 27 carries.
"We're not used to people running the ball on us," Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. "That certainly had a huge impact on the game—[Penn] being able to run the football and keep us off-balance with the play-action pass."
The victory marked the culmination of a significant turnaround for Penn, which started the season 2-4, including a loss to league bottom-dweller Yale. But the Quakers have run off an increasingly impressive series of wins over the past three weeks, beating Brown, Princeton, and finally Harvard to reclaim a share of the title it won in 2009 and 2010 but surrendered to the Crimson in a 37-20 loss at Harvard Stadium in the season's penultimate week a year ago.
"We found our identity at the right time," Bagnoli said. "We kind of lost our way, [but] ever since then I think we've gotten closer to playing the way we are structured to play."
Neither team scored in the third quarter, and the squads traded touchdowns in the fourth.
Just 57 seconds into the final period, Penn backup quarterback Andrew Holland threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mitchell King, who was able to wrestle a jump ball away from junior safety Chris Splinter to put the Quakers up two scores—Harvard's largest deficit of the season.