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Penn upsets Princeton, 38-35, in Ivy League football thriller at Franklin Field

For as turbulent as this season has been at Penn, Saturday's win will live long in the program's memory.

Penn wide receiver Justin Watson makes one of his two touchdown catches in the Quakers’ 38-35 win over Princeton at Franklin Field.
Penn wide receiver Justin Watson makes one of his two touchdown catches in the Quakers’ 38-35 win over Princeton at Franklin Field.Read moreCourtesy of Penn Athletics

For as turbulent as this football season has been at Penn, Saturday's 38-35 upset of Princeton at Franklin Field will live long in the program's memory.

That's especially true for quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie. In his first year as a starter, the senior had lost the job to sophomore Nick Robinson. But Robinson wasn't at full health, so Fischer-Colbrie returned to the spotlight.

He did so in style, completing 15 of 18 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns: a 36-yarder to Justin Watson early in the third quarter and a 15-yarder to Watson late in the fourth for the game's final score.

"We had total confidence in him leading us down there on that final drive," Watson said. "It's awesome to see all the work he put in these last couple of years paying off for him."

Penn (5-3, 2-3 Ivy League) held a 17-7 lead at halftime, thanks to two rushing touchdowns by Abe Willows after Princeton scored on the game's first drive.

The Quakers extended their advantage to 24-7 on their first drive of the second half. Four plays after Watson set the school's all-time record for receptions with 260, he hauled in the first of his two scores on the day.

Princeton (4-4, 2-3) charged back late in the third quarter. Wide receiver Jesper Horsted took a 17-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown, then the Tigers' defense forced a fumble and took over at Penn's 14. Three plays later, Horsted scored again, shaking off two Penn defenders on a 9-yard run to the end zone.

Penn responded at the start of the fourth quarter, as Karekin Brooks capped off an 11-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. But Princeton kept coming, cutting the deficit to 31-28 with 8 minutes, 47 seconds to play with a 1-yard run by Charlie Volker.

A fumbled Penn handoff gave Princeton the ball back with just over six minutes in the game. A pass interference penalty helped take the Tigers to the Quakers' 7-yard line, and, two plays later, Volker scored from the three.

Fischer-Colbrie put Penn in front again with his biggest drive yet, throwing to Watson for a score with 1:12 to go.

Princeton then drove to within field goal range, helped in part by a holding penalty on Penn that negated an interception. The refs took the spotlight again with 7 seconds to go, ruling incomplete a pass that appeared at first to be fairly caught in the end zone.

Then came the field goal attempt. The snap and the hold were good, but the kick sailed wide right.

Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was help from Franklin Field's ghosts. Whatever caused the miss, the celebration was one that the program had to wait all season to unleash.

"In our early games, we got knocked down, but for them to stand back up and keep fighting the way they've fought … most people don't do that," coach Ray Priore said. "That was a 60-minute football game lesson on grit and resiliency."