Red-hot Penn can throw Ivy race into chaos Saturday against No. 12 Harvard
(STATS) - The leaves and temperatures are dropping in Cambridge and championship aspirations could be next.
They haven't won five straight Ivy games since going 7-0 and winning the title in 2010. Penn could put itself in position to at least contend for a share of the crown next week against visiting Cornell, but that would require beating Harvard (8-0, 5-0).
A victory for the Quakers would also open the door for Dartmouth, which faces Brown on Saturday and is 4-1 in the conference. The Big Green's season finale is at home versus Princeton, while the Crimson visit Yale.
Harvard and Dartmouth were first and second in the preseason poll while Penn was sixth. The Quakers, though, dramatically put themselves in the race after erasing a 10-point halftime deficit before Alek Torgersen hit Eric Fiore on an 11-yard touchdown pass to beat the Tigers 26-23 in overtime last weekend.
"It's been a work in progress," first-year coach Ray Priore said. "You gotta crawl before you walk, walk before you run. I think we've gone through each step in that process. They've earned everything they've got at this point. The confidence factor. There was not one sense of panic when we're down by 10 points at halftime. There's a swagger that begins, but now it's 'money time.'"
The Crimson have plenty of swagger, winning 22 games in a row for the longest streak by an Ivy League team since Penn's 24 straight from 1992-95.
Harvard is outscoring opponents by an average of 22.8 points during its run. However, things have become a lot tighter, edging Dartmouth 14-13 on Oct. 30 before beating Columbia 24-16 last weekend.
"It's a combination of both the grind of the season, and opponents doing a good job of scouting us and knowing what we're going to do before we go out there," tight end Ben Braunecker said of the close scores after Harvard had a 169-10 scoring edge over the previous four games.
Braunecker is emerging as a go-to target for quarterback Scott Hosch, catching 25 passes for 430 yards and three touchdowns over the past four games. The senior had three scoring grabs over the first four weeks but just 198 yards and nine receptions.
Braunecker's increased production has been necessary with running back Paul Stanton Jr. limited to 118 yards on 35 carries in the last two games. He had 617 yards while averaging 6.2 per rush with nine TDs in the first six.
"Some defenses had to fill the box and try to play more conservative zone or man-to-man against me," Braunecker said. "We knew this for the past few games that opponents were going to try to do that against us and we've been able to exploit that."
Stanton, however, ran Penn ragged in a 34-24 win last year. He raced for career highs of 235 yards and three touchdowns on 22 attempts, adding three receptions for 41 yards. He's facing a Penn defense that gave up 164 rushing yards and two scores last weekend.
Hosch wasn't very effective against the Quakers last year, throwing one touchdown and two interceptions. The senior - recently added to the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List - has completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,037 yards with six TDs and three picks over the past three weeks. He's also the first quarterback in school history to start his career 14-0.
Hosch's 16 scoring passes lead the Ivy League, but Torgersen is just one back. The Penn signal caller has connected on 70.8 percent of his passes for 1,020 yards with 11 touchdowns and no INTs over four games after missing one through injury.
Priore, though, is aware the odds are stacked against his Quakers.
"On paper we should lose and that's OK," he said. "We'll see what happens."