By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The eyes of the Ivy League will be on Franklin Field on Saturday as the two teams tied for first in the Ancient 8, Penn and Harvard, will battle, with the winner earning at least a share of the league title.
It is quite a testament to the Quakers that they are still standing in this race. Penn (4-4 overall, 4-1 in the Ivy League) was reeling a bit after losing a winnable game at Yale back on October 20th. But they have since rallied with two stirring, come from behind, wins. The first one came at home against Brown and then last week they won at Princeton.
That game against the Tigers was one for the ages as Penn beat their longtime rival Princeton 28-21. The Quakers trailed 21-14 halfway through the fourth quarter when they got a interception return for a touchdown off a defection from defensive lineman C.J. Mooney to tie the game. Then a touchdown run by quarterback Billy Ragone gave them the lead. The Penn defense would then close out the dramatic comeback by falling on a Princeton fumble with 30 seconds left on a 3rd and goal play deep in Quakers territory.
LISTEN: Matt Leon interviews Al Bagnoli
“Our kids have shown great resilience,” Penn head coach Al Bagnoli tells KYW Newsradio. “They’ve shown tremendous confidence in their ability, late, to come back in games and persevere and do all those things that you need to do. And it’s just really a reflection of the great job our seniors are doing with them and our ability to win some close games.”
Harvard has powered their way to a 7-1 record, averaging 42.4 points a game in the process. Bagnoli says they light up the scoreboard, despite keeping it relatively simple as an offense.
“They’re one personnel grouping, they play with two tight ends and those kids are either tight or they’re split out. They play with two wide receivers, one running back and the quarterback. They cause you some of the same issues that the (NFL’s New England) Patriots cause you. How do you match-up against two tight ends that can go inside and play power run game, can split outside and run fades? One of the kids is 6’5″, so they throw the ball up to him. They really cause you to stay very basic and I think that’s the beauty of their offense. They can deploy you in a lot of different ways and cause you some headaches.”
When Penn has the ball, Bagnoli says they will have to deal with a deep Harvard front.
“They rotate eight kids through and they get after the quarterback pretty good,” Bagnoli says. “They try to force you into a lot of mistakes. Now some teams have been successful throwing the ball against them. And some of that maybe statistically, is caused because (other teams) are falling behind because the offense is scoring so many points that they’re in catch-up mode.”
Harvard does allow 270.2 yards a game through the air, but just 43.4 on the ground and teams score just 15 points a game against the Crimson.
Penn and Harvard will kick-off at noon on Saturday at Franklin Field.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.