In the HBO hit series Game of Thrones, the most climactic episode in all six seasons has been the second to last. The ninth episode has always been the bloodiest, most exciting, and most important episode in the 10-episode seasons. Season six’s penultimate episode was highlighted by one of the most beautifully filmed battle scenes of all time.
Season three’s The Rains of Castamere killed off some of the show’s most important characters in the Red Wedding. The final episode in each season usually just describes the aftermath of whatever conflict or twist was introduced in show nine; hardly anything happens in terms of plot movement. The penultimate episode is the most significant.
Such is the case this weekend for the Harvard football team. While many parallels can be drawn between Game of Thrones and Ivy League football (the 10-episode seasons, a family in charge whose banner is red, surprising twists), the fact of the matter is that Harvard faces its greatest challenge this weekend against Penn, and the result of this game will more than likely determine the winner of the Ivy League championship. Heading into Friday, Harvard has a narrow lead in the conference standings. While the Crimson is undefeated, Penn lost its first Ancient Eight matchup last weekend against Princeton. As it stands now, Penn and Princeton are tied for second place in the Ivy League, each with one loss, which will make for an interesting weekend as Harvard takes on the Quakers.
And all of this has happened before. As in, it happened a year ago. Coming into the Penn game last season, the Crimson was undefeated in Ivy League play, and Penn had one loss. The Quakers’ defeat came at the hands of Dartmouth, whom Harvard had already defeated, 14-13, thanks to a crazy fourth quarter comeback in October. But the Crimson lost to Penn, meaning the Ivy League championship was split among the three teams.
So for the second year in a row, the penultimate game against the University of Pennsylvania is the most important. For the second year in a row, Harvard controls its own destiny. For the second year in a row, a win against Penn would almost guarantee the Crimson an Ivy League title.
Harvard has been markedly inconsistent this season. At points, the Crimson has clicked on all cylinders. The passing game has been complimented by the dual-pronged rushing attack of senior quarterback Joe Viviano and junior running back Semar Smith. Viviano has been able to light up defenses, hitting throws in the tightest of windows. The holes created by the offensive line are big enough for a truck to drive through, and Viviano has all the time in the world in the pocket. The defense has, at times, looked impenetrable. The defense is ranked third in the Ivy League in both yards and points per game. Sophomore defensive end DJ Bailey is tied for second in the Ancient Eight with six sacks. The team has, for the greater part of the season, looked like the best team in the Ivy League.
Other times however, the offensive line has given up six sacks in a single game—that happened against Holy Cross, the same team that held Harvard to a lousy 26 rushing yards. The Crimson also has not outscored a single team in the fourth quarter this season.
Penn’s been a different story. Judging by conference games alone—until last week, that is—Penn made an even stronger case as the top team in the Ivy League. After losing their first two nonconference games, the Quakers quickly rattled off five straight victories, four coming against league opponents. They beat Dartmouth by two scores and outscored Yale and Columbia by a combined 63 points. Three-year starter and first team All-Ivy quarterback Alek Torgersen had been lighting up defenses, throwing a league-leading 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. The ground game had also been on fire, and the defense had been solid.
Last week, however, the Quakers looked like a completely different team against Princeton. Torgersen threw for only 179 yards and an interception. He also fumbled three times, losing one. Running back Tre Solomon, who leads the league in yards per game, was held to 38 yards on the day. Princeton dominated Penn, plain and simple.
The game this weekend, and in turn, the Ivy League, will be decided by which teams decide to show up. Harvard can play like it has throughout a good chunk of the season, or the team can play like it did against Holy Cross. The former guarantees a fourth Ivy League championship in as many years. The latter paves the way for the second three-way tie in a row.
—Staff writer Wade G. Player can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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