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We almost had a race again.
Dartmouth had just held on fourth-and-one with a minute remaining to reclaim possession, trailing Harvard just 13-12. With just five minutes left in Philadelphia, Brown led Penn 16-13 and had held the Quakers scoreless for the last 30 minutes.
For a brief moment, it appeared that everyone would be back in the Ivy race. Even Columbia.
Just as quickly as the possibility had presented itself, however, it vanished. The Big Green drove to the Crimson 35-yard line but couldn’t stop the clock for a field goal try. The Bears defense needed just one more stop to seal the deal, but Penn put together a nine-play, 88-yard drive spanning just 2:10 as it drove for the game-winning score.
And with Cornell’s 21-20 upset of one-loss Princeton, the lead pack of Harvard and Penn jumped a full two games out in front of the rest of the league with just three games to play. Since the Crimson and the Quakers face off on Nov. 13, at least one of the teams will finish with no worse than two losses, once again making that Harvard-Penn showdown in Philadelphia the de facto conference title game.
That being said, there’s still plenty of football to be played, so let’s get to this weekend’s action.
PRINCETON (4-3, 2-2) vs. NO. 20 PENN (6-1, 4-0)
Just seven quarters ago, this game wasn’t going to be a roadblock, it was going to be a conference title bout.
As Princeton trotted off the field up 14-3 at the end of one quarter against Harvard two weekends ago, it appeared that the Tigers had claimed the “number one contender” status and that this week’s game in Princeton would be for all the marbles.
In the seven quarters since, the Tigers have been outscored 57-20, including a run of 36 straight points by the Crimson to close out a 39-14 win.
Now, Princeton’s title hopes are shot, but it still has one last chance to make an impact on the race.
Taking a quick look at Penn’s numbers—a 19-game conference winning streak, the best rushing defense, scoring defense and passing offense in the league—makes the situation look bleak for the Tigers.
If Princeton is to have a chance, it must generate turnovers and find a way to take advantage of a relatively weak Quaker secondary. The first side of that equation might be possible—the Tigers are fourth in the league with a +3 turnover differential on the season. Penn’s Pat McDermott has thrown just two picks all season, however, so the prospects aren’t good.
Princeton is also dead last in the league in passing yardage and has no receivers in the top 10 in yards or receptions per game. The good news is that QB Matt Verbit has the highest completion percentage in the league, and since the Quakers have been very successful against the run, he may just get a chance to show off his arm. But expecting anything more than a 200-yard, two-TD performance would be a stretch, and that probably wouldn’t even be enough to lead the Tigers past Penn.
The Quakers will run their Ivy winning streak to 20 with a 24-14 win over Princeton.
BROWN (4-3, 1-3) vs. YALE (4-3, 2-2)
Last year, the Bulldogs shredded the Brown defense, moving up and down the field en route to a 44-point performance.
And they still lost by double digits.
The Bears’ 55-44 win in the Yale Bowl last season came just minutes after Columbia closed out a 16-13 win over Harvard and had seemingly given Yale the inside track for a second-place finish and an outside chance at the Ivy title.
But the loss to Brown dropped the Bulldogs to 3-2 in the league and after falling to Harvard in The Game, Yale finished among a clump of teams tied for second behind Penn.
This year, the title hopes for both teams have already been dashed, leaving each with the sole prospect of playing for a winning league record.
The question coming into this contest is how the Bears will respond after coming within a minute of ending Penn’s four-year home conference winning streak. Without a steady quarterback, Brown could be primed for a let-down game. But running back Nick Hartigan has been a rock for the Bears, and his 179-yard performance against Penn—the league’s top rushing defense—should carry over into a solid showing versus a weaker Yale run defense.
The Bulldogs, however, don’t necessarily come into this contest on an emotional high either. Yale staved off a desperation drive by Columbia to hold on for a 21-14 last weekend. Everyone from quarterback Alvin Cowan (172 yards, two TDs, two interceptions) to running back Robert Carr (21 rushes, 97 yards, one TD) had an average day, leading to an average result against a terrible opponent. If the Bulldogs can’t snap out of this offensive slump, they could close out the season 0-3.
On that note, there’s a good chance they’ll start out 0-1. Hartigan runs for 150 yards and two scores in a 20-17 Brown win.
CORNELL (2-5, 2-2) vs. DARTMOUTH (0-7, 0-4)
Could Cornell be one of only three Ivy teams with a winning league record after tomorrow?
In one of the more bizarre stories of the 2004 season, the Big Red not only still has a chance at an Ivy title (though very, very slim), but it also has held a lead in the second half of each of its first four league contests.
The key has been run defense—something that won’t help Cornell this weekend, because Dartmouth can’t run the ball anyway. The Big Green has trouble passing the ball as well, and, at 0-7, has had tremendous difficulty winning.
New Big Red quarterback Ryan Kuhn is beginning to feel comfortable in the pocket, and that should spell trouble for a Dartmouth defense that gives up big chunks of yardage.
The Big Green gave everything it had last weekend in a heartbreaking 13-12 loss to Harvard. Cornell blows apart the remaining shreds of Dartmouth’s dignity in a 21-7 win.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His "Around the Ivy League" appears every Friday.
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