The Crimson scored 28 straight points and held off a late Penn surge to top the Quakers 28-21 in front of a rowdy crowd of 14,818 at Harvard Stadium.
The dramatic win gives Harvard (8-0, 6-0 Ivy) at least a share of its 10th Ivy League title and its best record since the 1968 squad went 8-0-1. It also marks Harvard's first win against Penn (7-1, 5-1) in four years and only its second triumph in the series over the last decade.
"This is the best win in my head coaching career," said Harvard Coach Tim Murphy. "These guys are a special group, not just because they are 8-0, and not just because they are champions, but because of how they did it."
In only the fifth match since 1910 between Ivy unbeatens this late in a season, Harvard prevailed with a formula that has worked since September—an emphasis on limiting turnovers, explosive production from offensive playmakers and timely plays from the defense and special teams units.
For the fourth time this season, Harvard played 60 minutes of football without a turnover. The Crimson leads the nation with the fewest turnovers (7), and Saturday was no exception to the trend.
"When you can play in a game of this magnitude and not turn the ball over once, you give yourself a great opportunity to win the game," said Penn Coach Al Bagnoli.
The Crimson capitalized on the Quakers' sole turnover—a momentum-shifting interception by senior cornerback Willie Alford—as well as a blocked punt by senior tailback Rodney Thomas, and another record-setting performance from All-Ivy and potential All-American wide receiver Carl Morris.
After senior quarterback Neil Rose tied the game at 14 on a 20-yard slant to Morris with 11:23 left in the third quarter, the Penn offense drove into Harvard territory on the ensuing possession. From the 49, Quaker quarterback Gavin Hoffman fired a pass over the middle of the field that was initially caught by senior wideout Rob Milanese at the Crimson 15. Sophomore cornerback Benny Butler, who was playing tight coverage, hit Milanese and dislodged the ball, and Alford made an acrobatic play to snag the ball in mid-air for his third interception of the season.
Four plays and one minute later, Rose pump-faked to draw in the Penn secondary and launched a bomb down for Morris. Morris made an outstanding over-the-shoulder catch and then muscled his way past senior corner Stephen Faulk to complete the 62-yard scoring play to put Harvard up 21-14 with 6:57 left in the third quarter.
Another big play proved important in changing the momentum of the game. With 8:55 left in the fourth quarter, Penn lined up to punt the ball away from its own 41. A miscommunication on Penn's punt defense squad allowed senior tailback Rodney Thomas to come clean and block the Crimson's first punt in over two years.
Harvard took over at the 30 and scored two plays later when Rose found senior tailback Josh Staph wide open over the middle to give the Crimson a 28-14 cushion with 8:42 left in the game.
Penn, to its credit, didn't roll over. After a Crimson punt that placed Penn at the 49 with 2:24 left in the game, Hoffman wasted little time in cutting the Crimson lead in half.
Hoffman rifled a 29-yard pass to sophomore receiver Joe Phillips and lobbed a 22-yard TD strike to senior wideout Rob Milanese. The touchdown, which made the score 28-21, capped a drive that covered 51 yards and only took 12 seconds off the clock.
After an unsuccessful Quaker onside kick, Harvard went three-and-out and Penn regained possession at its 14 with 33 seconds left. Hoffman, who was last year's Ivy League Player of the Year, marched the Quakers to the 42 with five seconds to play.
But Hoffman—who two years ago stunned the Crimson with a fourth-down, 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass—didn't have enough magic to overcome a late Harvard lead this year.