Football Preps for Penn

Showdown will decide Ivy League Championship

Brian M. Haas

Harvard quarterback NEIL T. ROSE (16) and tailback JOSH A. STAPH (9) go over the final offensive game plan for this weekend’s showdown against Penn during yesterday’s football practice.

In perhaps its most significant game in three decades, the undefeated Harvard football team will host undefeated Penn tomorrow at Harvard Stadium. At stake is a share of the Ivy League title.

“This is the biggest game we’ve ever played,” Harvard senior quarterback Neil Rose said. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever been involved with.”

The game marks the first time two undefeated Ivy teams have faced each other this late in the year since 1968. That year, Harvard crushed previously undefeated Yale, 29-29, in one of the most memorable games in college football history.

Harvard (7-0, 5-0 Ivy) enters the game ranked No. 24 in the I-AA national rankings, the first time it has appeared in the poll since its inception in 1993. Penn (7-0, 5-0) is currently ranked No. 19.

With a victory, Harvard would claim at least a share of their first league title since 1997. A win over Yale next week would then give the Crimson the title outright and its first perfect season since 1913.

“This year it’s all coming together,” senior defensive back Andy Fried said. “The intensity’s there, and there’s something special in the air with this team.”

Harvard has already sold more than 10,000 tickets for the game, as of yesterday. Saturday’s crowd is expected to be the largest at Harvard Stadium for a non-Harvard-Yale game since 1987.

While no one at Harvard has participated in a game of this magnitude, Penn has been no stranger to big games under Coach Al Bagnoli. Under him, the Quakers beat Cornell last year in a game that determined the league championship, and Penn prevailed in the last late-season meeting of unbeaten Ivy teams, defeating Princeton 30-14 in 1993.

In all, Bagnoli has guided the Quakers to four Ivy titles in the last eight years.

Penn edged Harvard last year, 36-35, in a crucial, thrilling game that cost the Crimson any chance at the league title. Trailing 35-27 late in the fourth quarter, the Quakers staged a furious comeback behind quarterback Gavin Hoffman, scoring a field goal and touchdown to take a 36-35 lead.

Harvard had a chance to win as time expired, but kicker Robbie Wright’s field goal sailed wide left.

The Crimson turned the ball over five times in that game, preventing what easily could have been a victory.

“We beat ourselves last year,” Fried said.

This year’s Penn squad has been even more impressive than last season’s championship team.

The Quaker offense now features a powerful running game, but the real improvement has been to the dominating Penn defense, one of the best in the nation.

“They have the best defense I have seen in the Ivy League since arriving here in 1994,” Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said.