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Penn needs win over Harvard and help to stay in Ivy League title chase

The Quakers enter Saturday's game against Harvard needing a lot to go right in the next two weeks.

"We're playing meaningful games in November, and that's the important thing," Quakers coach Ray Priore says.
"We're playing meaningful games in November, and that's the important thing," Quakers coach Ray Priore says.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Penn will need some help if it wants a piece of the Ivy League football title.

The Quakers (6-2, 3-2 Ivy) enter Saturday's game against Harvard (4-4, 2-3) two games behind first-place Princeton, which Penn will finish the season against next week, and a game behind Dartmouth, which the Quakers lost to in September.

Along with a win over the Crimson, Penn needs Princeton to lose Saturday to Yale (5-3, 3-2) to stay alive mathematically. If that happens, the Quakers also will need a win over the Tigers next week and Dartmouth to lose one of its final two games, against Cornell and Brown.

Penn coach Ray Priore is not fretting over the scenarios.

"We're playing meaningful games in November, and that's the important thing," Priore said Tuesday.

After a 1-2 start in league play, the Quakers have relied on their defense to get back into the Ivy League championship picture and give themselves an outside chance at claiming at least a share of the conference title for the third time in four years and first time since 2016.

Penn ranks No. 15 in the Football Championship Series in total defense and No. 8 in scoring defense, allowing 314 yards and 17.3 points per game. The Quakers have held opponents to seven points in each of their last two wins, over Brown and Cornell.

They've complemented that stout defense with a rushing attack led by Karekin Brooks and Abe Willows that ranks No. 33 at 196.3 yards per game and a passing attack that hasn't thrown an interception since the loss to Dartmouth.

"We have some identity," Priore said. "Yes, we'd love to be scoring more points, but I think the key is keeping them out of the end zone, [to] control and protect the ball."

Penn's defense will be challenged by a Harvard offense that put up 52 points against Columbia last weekend.

The key for Penn's defense will be to keep the Crimson from picking up yardage in chunks. Priore said Harvard has had at least one play of 20-or-more yards on 31 of its 34 scoring drives.

"We know as coaches, big plays are what really pushes you," Priore said. "It's hard to drive the ball down the football field, so if you can contain their run and pass game, keep things in front of us, play good on offense, control the ball on offense, we can make a game of it."

Harvard at Penn

1  p.m. Saturday at Franklin Field.

Records: Penn, 6-2, 3-2 Ivy; Harvard, 4-4, 2-3.

Coaches: Ray Priore, 26-12 in fourth season at Penn; Tim Murphy, 171-76 in 24th season at Harvard.

TV/radio: WFIL 560 AM

History: Penn won, 23-6, in 2017, but Harvard leads all-time, 48-38-2.

— John Smallwood