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Penn still barely alive in congested Ivy race

The Quakers, despite having three league losses, remain in the Ivy League title picture heading into Saturday's game at Harvard.

Penn quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie (14) makes a pass after almost getting sacked against Ohio Dominican on Sept. 16 at Franklin Field.
Penn quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie (14) makes a pass after almost getting sacked against Ohio Dominican on Sept. 16 at Franklin Field.Read moreWILLIAM THOMAS CAIN

No team has won a share of the Ivy title with three league losses. Nonetheless …

If Dartmouth (6-2, 3-2) beats Brown on Friday night at Fenway Park in Boston, and Princeton (5-3, 2-3) wins at first-place Yale (7-1, 4-1) on Saturday, and Penn (4-4, 2-3) wins at Harvard (5-3, 3-2), and Cornell (3-5, 3-2) beats Columbia (6-2, 3-2) at home, seven teams would still have a chance to finish tied at the top.

Then, next week, Harvard would need to win at Yale, Columbia would need to beat Brown at home, the Quakers would have to beat Cornell at Franklin Field, and Princeton would need to win at Dartmouth.

Got all that?

It's not as though anyone's asking Brown to beat Yale.

The last time a two-loss team got a ring was 1982. The only other time it happened was 1963. So, the odds are against this scenario playing out. Yet it's not totally implausible.

And this season has already been anything but normal.

Yale won three games last year. Penn and Princeton, the defending cochamps, are tied for sixth. Dartmouth won once in the league in 2016. Columbia hasn't been good in forever. And Cornell was picked to finish last in the preseason media poll. Go figure. And so many of the games have come down to the closing whatever.

Two weeks ago, Penn had lost four in a row (including two on the last play, one in overtime) and looked done. Now, they have something tangible to think about again, coming off a 38-35 win over Princeton in West Philly, when the Tigers missed a 31-yard field goal at the end.

"It's been a strange season," said senior defensive end Louis Vecchio, who could opt to return next season, since he missed the last eight games in 2015 after injuring a knee. "I can't say that [the possibilities] aren't on our minds at all. But we have to … take care of what we can control. If we beat Harvard, we could have a shot. And we'll deal with that in another week. Right now, we want to beat Harvard because it's Harvard.

"If we can't win another title, then we want to ruin it for everyone else. Let's knock off Princeton. Now it's Harvard. And then Cornell. We don't want to go out as losers. It hasn't gone as planned. We lost some we could have or should have won. There's nothing we can do about it now. We want to finish strong. And what happens happens. You never know. It's been up and down. But we're playing meaningful games in November."

In this century, the title mostly has come down to Penn-Harvard. The Quakers have beaten Harvard the last two years. The Crimson were unbeaten in the Ivies both times. The Quakers haven't beaten them three straight since 1998-2000. And the last time they won back-to-back games up there was 1993 and '95.

Since losing to Princeton, 52-17, at home on Oct. 20, Harvard has beaten visiting Dartmouth by 3 and won, 21-14, at Columbia, which came down to an incompletion in the end zone on a fourth down from the 10. That gave coach Tim Murphy his 200th career victory, 168th with the program. Nine have come against Penn, in 23 tries.

Last year's Penn win came down to the final seconds — the first time since 2009 that the winner didn't score at least 30. In the five meetings before that, nobody reached 30.

"It's always nice to have that carrot out there," said Penn coach Ray Priore, who's lifted a trophy in each of his first two seasons. "And it's a great carrot. Even though we were supposedly quote-unquote out of it, the kids knew how close we were. But if you want to continue to say we were a couple of plays away, that means you better win the rest. Or you can't say that anymore. They took that to heart and said, 'Let's make a statement.'
"They're smart kids. They know they have something to play for."

Princeton would have meant something anyway. Just ask any alum. Ditto Harvard. But a little something extra never hurts.

"We know there's a lot that has to happen on the outside," Vecchio said. "Maybe it's a different story if we get a step closer."

That has to happen first.

"The thing that resonates with me is this could be our last time for a lot of things. We have to cherish the moment. Especially when you're used to winning. It makes the tough losses sting even more. You have to have some perspective on everything we've been through here. Two years ago, the games all went for us. You don't realize it at the time, but it's hard to win. And we did.

"We just need to win one more, and then one after that, and see what it gets us. Right now, getting that third [Ivy] win is the most important thing. If we find out that so-and-so did this or did that, we'll get to celebrate something even greater. It'll be like icing on the cake."

And if the blue snow indeed winds up falling, can there be enough candles for everyone to blow out?