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Penn 17, Harvard 7

Crimson stopped short of their goal

Quakers wrap up win in Ivy showdown

By Craig Larson
Globe Staff / November 15, 2009

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His initial burst on fourth and 1 denied by a wall of Penn defenders, Collier Winters veered left approaching the goal line, extending his arm with the ball, valiantly trying to keep Harvard’s slim hopes alive with 2 minutes 44 seconds remaining.

A crunching hit by senior Chris Wynn, however, left the Crimson junior quarterback inches shy of the end zone, preserved a 10-point Penn cushion, and likely ended Harvard’s realistic hopes of capturing its third straight Ivy League title.

In securing at least a share of their first league crown, and their first victory at the Stadium since 2003, the Quakers earned a well-deserved and emotional 17-7 victory thanks to an opportunistic offense that struck early, its trademark ferocious defense, and grit.

The late stuff of Winters was just the exclamation point for Penn (7-2, 6-0), which ripped off its seventh straight victory by making big plays and limiting its mistakes in the nasty weather from start to finish.

“The three defensive linemen submarined our guys, we really didn’t get a push. So I tried to go around the edge, I reached the ball out, and the ref said that I didn’t make it,’’ said the 5-foot-11-inch, 185-pound Winters, who was harassed and chased the majority of the afternoon by the nation’s top-ranked defense. He managed to churn out a team-leading 57 yards on 18 carries.

Penn coach Al Bagnoli, in lauding his stingy D, said, “We came up with some huge plays, probably none bigger than stopping them on the 6-inch line.’’

But it was the ever-improving Quaker offense, with quarterbacks Kyle Olson and Keiffer Garton both healthy and available for the first time since the opener against Villanova, that provided the early momentum.

Less than three minutes in, just as the crowd of 7,424 was settling into their seats (the majority under the protective covering high above the field), Quaker senior receiver Marcus Lawrence turned a slip screen from Olson into a 51-yard sprint down the left sideline for a 7-0 lead.

“The ball came out like a wet fish,’’ said the lefthanded-throwing Olson, who finished 14 of 24 for 159 yards. “I was thinking that it was going to hit the ground, he picked it up, and I’m, ‘Great, maybe he’ll get 8 yards,’ and he just broke away.’’

As Harvard coach Tim Murphy noted, “In a weather game, a score is like 10 points instead of 7, with two outstanding defenses.’’ His Crimson (6-3, 5-1) can now only earn a share of the Ivy title with a win Saturday at Yale, coupled with a Penn loss at have vs. Cornell.

The margin grew to 14-0 early in the second quarter, with the Quakers capitalizing on a short field thanks to a big play on special teams. Backed up deep in his territory, Crimson punter Thomas Hull snared a high snap, but after eluding a charging defender, his boot was partially blocked by Jason Schmucker. Olson capped the short drive with a 1-yard TD run.

Penn tacked on a 28-yard field goal by Andrew Samson for a 17-0 spread with 31 seconds left in the first half, the scoring drive extended by a pass-interference call on third and 10 at the 22.

“You give up a big play, you have a turnover on special teams, you’re not going to have many opportunities in a game like this,’’ said Murphy. “Our back was against the wall at halftime.’’

The Crimson defense shut the door in the second half. But the offense could answer with only one score, with 2:58 left in third quarter, when Winters (10 of 23, 135 yards) rolled left on play-action and lofted a 45-yard strike over the middle to Chris Lorditch to make it 17-7. Winters’s two cracks from the 1 in the waning moments came up inches short.

“They were the better team today and they deserved to win, Penn made more plays than we did and less mistakes,’’ said Murphy.

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com