By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — It isn't hard to look at veteran Penn football coach Al Bagnoli as the eternal pessimist, the guy who sees the glass as half-empty, even when the water is cascading from the rim.
On Saturday, Bagnoli was feeling little more up-beat after watching his normally-even-keeled Quakers (5-4 overall, 5-1 in the Ivy League) added some heavy-duty emotion to its mix before a senior day crowd of 8.910 spectators at Franklin Field, along with a national television audience on the NBC Sports Network, and stunned Harvard 30-21.
Bagnoli turned optimist when he talked about his battered and bruised Quaker team at Wednesday's weekly Philadelphia sportswriter's luncheon, discussing the 11th meeting in the past 13 years where Penn and Harvard played with a share of the Ivy League championship on the line.
"Our kids have great resilience, you can never tell if they are ahead, or behind," said Bagnoli, who is in his 21st season on the University City campus. "That's the beauty of this team, they just play hard."
One of the legendary coaches in the Football Championship Subdivision, Bagnoli had won eight Ivy League championship rings, more than any active head coach among the Ancient Eight, but every one of his team's previous four wins this season had been seeming accomplished with blood, sweat and tears.
"We redefine winning pretty and I was being politically correct on that statement," Bagnoli said in advance of Saturday's game at historic Franklin Field. "The kids seem to think we can somehow, someway find a way to win."
Playing probably the most talented Ivy League squad in nearly a decade, a No. 24-ranked Harvard Crimson squad that was one fourth-quarter meltdown away from a perfect 8-0 record heading into Saturday's showdown, the scrappy Quakers didn't seem like a team many would have laid odds on to win in Atlantic City.
But this game was being played in Philly at the most ancient sports venue in college football, not near the banks of the Charles River at venerable Harvard Stadium.
"We're underdogs, but in a one-game season, anything can happen," Bagnoli said. "You give yourself a chance, if you win some close games."
The tone was set from the outset when Penn took its initial possession and marched down the field to score on a beautifully timed post pattern between senior quarterback Billy Ragone and junior Connor Scott (four catches, 72 yards) for a 32-yard scoring strike.
It was further emphasized when the Quaker defense forced a three-and-out from the Crimson's potent offense on Harvard's first offensive series.
From there, every time Harvard (7-2, 4-2) threatened to take control, Penn immediately answered, turning from underdogs to front-runners.
One of the keys to Penn's control was running back Lyle Marsh, who ran behind a dominating offensive line performance for career-highs of 130 yards on 27 carries.
Ragone (8-of-17, 108 yards, 16 carries, 95 yards rushing) didn't complete that many of his tosses, but he finished with two touchdowns passing and added another on a three-yard scamper as the Quakers built a 21-14 halftime lead.
Ryan O'Malley's two-yard TD grab with 1:37 left in the half gave the Quakers the lead for good.
But Penn had to overcome more adversity when Ragone was forced out of his final Franklin Field appearance when he fractured his ankle on a run during the final play of the third quarter.
Backup QB Andrew Holland contributed a crucial 18-yard touchdown aerial to reserve tight end Mitchell King, who had sprung Ragone on his first-quarter rushing TD with a lead block to thrust Ragone around the corner and into the end zone.
The connection between Holland and King made it 28-14 in the first minute of the fourth period and pushed Harvard to the ropes.
Crimson quarterback Colton Chapple (17-of-27 passing for 174 yards and two interceptions) rallied his team with a one-yard scoring toss to All-American tight end Kyle Juszczyk just over two minutes later, but that was as close as the Penn defense would let Harvard get.
After forcing three punts from Penn's Scott Lopano (six of his eight punts inside the 20-yard line on the day) in the fourth quarter, the Crimson were only able to pick up one first down the rest of the way.
The game was decided with Harvard pinned back at its own 11 with just 2:40 remaining on the fourth-quarter clock.
Penn came through with three consecutive sacks by linebacker Daniel Davis, nickelback Feerooz Yacoobi and then defensive end Brandon Copeland, Copeland's tackle with 1:25 remaining giving the Quakers a safety and an unsurmountable nine-point lead.
The Quakers finished with six sacks on the day against an injury-depleted Harvard offensive line after compiling only 11 overall in the previous eight games.
Penn earned a 353-295 edge in total offense, including a 227-121 advantage on the ground.
Harvard came in averaging 507 yards (fourth in FCS) and 42.4 points (third) per game, while allowing only 43 rushing yards (first) defensively on average.
After the safety, an onside free kick by Harvard failed and Penn ran out the clock for its third Ivy League title in four years.
The senior class became the fifth Penn class to earn three Ivy League titles in their career, joining the graduating classes of 1985, 1986, 1987 and 2004 as Penn won its 16th overall Ivy League title.
It was also Penn's first win over a ranked opponent since 2006.
But there is still some unfinished business.
Penn needs a victory next Saturday at Cornell (4-5, 2-4) to ensure an outright Ivy League crown — a team that stunned the Quakers 48-38 last year in the season finale at Franklin Field.
Should the Quakers slip up, that would give Harvard and Princeton (5-4, 4-2) a chance to grab a piece of the Ancient Eight cake.
Harvard will be in Cambridge, MA. to take on arch-rival Yale (2-7, 1-4), while Dartmouth (5-4, 3-3) travels to Princeton.