The irony wasn’t lost on those paying attention. Per tradition at Penn football games at the end of the third quarter, the band strikes up the school’s fight song while those in the student section rise and join in song.
As the ditty nears its conclusion with the phrase “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn,” suddenly the air is filled with hundreds of pieces of bread being launched from the stands.
Symbolically, just as this occurred on Saturday at venerable, chilly Franklin Field, the host Quakers were indeed in the process of getting toasted and raked over the coals by Ivy League rival, Harvard, 29-7.
In fact, from the time Penn intercepted Harvard’s first-pass-of-the day and quarterback Ryan Glover threw a pick of its own—leading to a quick score—the Quakers were up against it.
After digging an early 10-point hole for themselves, then failing to capitalize on first-and-goal at the one, Penn never recovered. It was not the way senior co-captain, linebacker Nick Miller & Co. wanted to go out in their final home game.
“Obviously, I wish we’d gone out on a better note,” agreed Miller, as the Quakers were pounded for 215 yards on the ground while falling to 6-3, 3-3 in Ivy League play. “We were trying to make the last one special as possible.”
“Regardless of what the standings say, we go out with the same mentality. It’s about Penn pride, so there was no real difference,” he added.
Except the Quakers never seemed to get their footing in this one, as Harvard—having a down year at 5-4, 3-3 in the Ivies–ended a three-year string of futility vs. the red-and-blue.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed in the outcome,” said Quaker coach Ray Priore, whose team was officially eliminated from the Ivy race. “It comes down to what we’ve done most of the year—protecting the football.”
“They got 20 points off turnovers. That’s the No. 1 stat. Then we have an opportunity to score and don’t get it,” he explained. “We never could get ourselves in gear.”
Things might’ve been different had the Quakers been able to punch it in after Glover hit wide receiver Mike Akai on a 32-yard strike just shy of the goal line. Instead, three running plays got nothing. Then on fourth down, Glover badly overthrew an open receiver in the end zone into the swirling wind.
“Everything takes an emotional toll,” said Priore, whose club will try to play spoiler next week on the road when 9-0 archrival Princeton goes for the Ivy crown.
“There’s good emotion. Bad emotion. That was an emotional letdown. We were on the flip side of it a week ago at Cornell. We held them four times at the two-yard line. So trust me, I know how they felt.”
“But give our opponent credit. They had 22 seniors, going two deep. Conversely, we don’t have as many experienced guys,” he said.
However, the Quakers were unable to mount any kind of sustained attack until after the toast came down. Glover hooked up with wide receiver Kolton Huber for a 23-yard score with 10 minutes left in the game to prevent the shutout.
For the most part, though, the offense scuffled. Penn, which came in averaging 196.2 yards per game rushing, gained only 58 yards on the ground on 32 carries. Add in the turnovers —two interceptions and two fumbles– and Priore knew it was a recipe for disaster.
“There’s an ebb and flow to the game, explained Priore, who’d never lost to the Crimson since replacing Al Bagnoli in 2015. “If we score that touchdown there to make it 10-7, it’s a different ballgame. But you can’t turn it over like that, no matter how good you are. You can’t do that.”
Or else, as the Quakers quickly found out, you’re toast.