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Winning close games has become a stressful positive for Penn

The Quakers will play long-time rival Cornell on ESPNU on Friday night.

Penn quarterback Nick Robinson watching from the sidelines during practice at Franklin Field, Thursday, August 30, 2018. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Penn quarterback Nick Robinson watching from the sidelines during practice at Franklin Field, Thursday, August 30, 2018. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff PhotographerRead moreSTEVEN M.FAULK

Penn coach Ray Priore has repeatedly said that teams never need to apologize for the way a win comes.

Still, considering the Quakers' last three victories have been by a total of 13 points, Priore probably wouldn't mind a little less stress while he's working the sidelines.

There is, however,  more silver lining than darkness in a winning cloud, and by pulling out those close games, the Quakers (5-2, 2-2 in the Ivy League) have shown growth from an issue that plagued them last season.

"As coaches, we always want as many points as we can get and put a game out of reach," Priore said. "When you're not winning by a lot, you don't get to play as many players as you would like.

"But, as far as the resiliency of our team and the grit and grime of pulling out a close game, that's a positive. Last year, we showed zero ability in finishing games out. This year, we've had a number of close games, where we had to play through that last down to pull them out."

Last week in its 13-10 win at Brown, Penn got 246 rushing yards from Karekin Brooks but needed to recover an onsides kick in the closing minute to seal the win.

There were an interception in the closing seconds that clinched a 13-10 win over Columbia and a touchdown pass with a little more than a minute remaining in a 31-27 comeback victory over Sacred Heart.

"We're finding ways to win some football games," Priore said. "I think, at the end of the day, every coach will tell you to get the 'W' no matter how you get it, but we would like to perform better, obviously, so we can have it a little bit better in the last couple of minutes of a game."

Against Brown, Priore looked to spark his slumbering offense, which scored just 13 points in the previous two games, by inserting junior quarterback Nick Robinson in the second quarter for sophomore Ryan Glover.

Priore emphasized that he didn't attribute the Quakers' offensive struggles to Glover – especially against Brown, where the passing offense was virtually eliminated because of the wind conditions. He said he wanted to see how the team reacted to Robinson, who threw a 10-yard touchdown.

Going forward, Priore said he intends to use both quarterbacks.

"People don't realize that Nick Robinson probably hurt his hamstring worse than we realized," Priore said. "He was really not able to practice and wasn't able to play in the first two games in his full capacity level.

"If he were up and ready, we probably would have played him more earlier.

"I think [the hamstring] is healthy. If you have two good kids who can play, why not? Both quarterbacks bring different dimensions to our offense. I think our ability to harness the strengths of what they can do will be good."

Penn at Cornell

6 p.m. Friday

Records: Penn (5-2, 2-2 in Ivy); Cornell (1-5, 0-3).

Coaches: Ray Priore, 25-12, in fourth season at Penn; David Archer, 15-41, in sixth season at Cornell.

TV/radio: ESPNU, WNTP (990 AM); streaming on ESPN+.

History: Penn won, 29-22, last season, and leads the series, 73-46-5.

Three things to watch

1. Meeting the Quakers for the 125th time, Cornell is Penn's longest-standing rival. The Big Red and Quakers are not squaring off in the final game of the season for the first time since 1987. The winner gets the Trustee's Cup. Cornell lost, 66-0, last week to Princeton.

2. Penn says it will go with both quarterbacks Ryan Glover and Nick Robinson. Priore said the move is not a reaction to anything Glover, who has 1,300 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns, has done wrong. If both quarterbacks perform well, things can go on, but if one outshines the other, a situation could arise.

3. The Penn running game reemerged Saturday after a disastrous performance against Yale to rip off 306 yards in the mud against Brown's poor run defense. The Big Red defense has given up points in 29 of 30 red-zone opportunities, including 20 touchdowns. That could help cure Penn's scoring woes.