PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Both defenses were as dominant as advertised on Saturday in Philadelphia but special teams play doomed Harvard as the Crimson fell to league-leading and 18th-ranked Penn, 34-14, at Franklin Field.
Harvard (6-3, 4-2 Ivy) finishes its season next week as it plays host to Yale (7-2, 5-1 Ivy) in the 127th playing of The Game at Harvard Stadium. Yale enters the game with a chance at the Ivy title and Harvard will look to play the unfamiliar role of spoiler at The Stadium.
Special teams miscues by Harvard led to the first 17 Penn (8-1, 6-0 Ivy) points as the Quakers claimed a 10-0 halftime lead. Early in the second quarter, a muffed punt gave Penn the ball inside Harvard's 10 with the Quakers settling for a field goal. Later in the second, a blocked Harvard field led to a Penn touchdown as the Quakers used a short field and momentum to take a 10-0 lead.
Harvard outgained Penn on the day, 410-278, but the Quakers benefitted from outstanding field position all afternoon. Penn's average starting position was its own 41 yard line and the team started inside its 30 yard line just four times all day with three of those coming after Harvard turnovers.
Gino Gordon paced the Harvard ground game with 110 yards on 21 carries (5.2 ypc) to give him his sixth 100-yard game of the season. He also had four catches for 22 yards. Adam Chrissis had six receptions for 67 yards. Josue Ortiz led the defense with eight tackles, one for a loss, and a fumble recovery. Jonathan Mason chipped in with seven tackles.
In the first quarter, Penn moved deep to Harvard's territory twice only to be thwarted, once on fourth down from the Crimson 28 and once with a drive ending at the 33. On its second drive, Harvard began to move the ball but, after picking up a pair of first downs, a 30-yard completion to Chrissis was called back due to an illegal motion call and the Crimson was forced to punt.
Later, Penn fumbled Harvard's third punt of the quarter with Bobby Schneider falling on it to give the Crimson possession at the Quaker 48. Harvard was unable to move the sticks however, and was forced to punt once more. At the start of the second quarter, the first special teams breakdown cost the Crimson after its defense had forced a punt.
Penn's bouncing punt hit up-man Dan Minamide in the back and Penn recovered the fumble at Harvard's nine yard line. The Crimson defense stuffed Penn but an easy 19-yard field goal gave the hosts a 3-0 lead at 12:22.
Midway through the second, Harvard went with a no-huddle offense and methodically moved the ball to Penn's 26. Harvard was stopped at the 22 and David Mothander came on for a 39 yard field goal but his low kick was blocked to keep Harvard off the board while providing Penn with great field position. Penn moved the ball once again, using a big QB keeper from Billy Ragone to eventually move into the red zone where Brandon Colavita ran it in from one yard out on a quick snap from second and goal.
Early in the third quarter, a bizarre special teams moment hurt Harvard and gave full control to the home side. Alex Gedeon punted a rocket, nearly 60 yards to Penn's one yard line. The ball bounced sideways and, after a Harvard player batted the ball to keep it in play, it inadvertently touched a Penn player, who then picked it up and scampered up the sideline to the 38. Again with great field position, Penn swiftly moved into Harvard territory and Ragone completed just his third pass of the game, a 25-yard screen pass to Jeff Jack that went for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
Following a controversial personal foul call on the Crimson, Andrew Sampson converted a 44-yard field goal for a 20-0 lead at the 6:30 mark.
From that point on, Harvard was forced into a series of fourth down situations and could not break through against the talented Penn defense as the Quakers ran away for the win. Ragone converted a third and four with a six-yard QB keeper for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter and a 27-0 lead.
Harvard scored early in the fourth on 4th and seven from Penn's 31 as Collier Winters evaded two pass rushers and found Mike Cook, who out-jumped his man to pull in the pass. Penn answered as Harvard's onsides kick went out of bounds and Colavita ran around the end on a sweep for a 35-yard TD run. Gordon completed the day's scoring with a three-yard run late in the quarter.
Winters finished his day 21-of-44 for 219 yards but was intercepted three times.