By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — What a difference a week meant in the tumultuous landscape of the Ivy League, where twists and turns and last-second comebacks are the flavor of the season.
Two more games were decided by field goals at the wire on Saturday.
Penn's Connor Loftus drilling a pair of kicks in the final two minutes, 12 seconds to lift the Quakers to turn a 17-14 deficit into a 20-17 homecoming victory.
The joy of Princeton's improbable comeback in the final 12 minutes last week from a 34-10 shortfall to a 39-34 victory over title favorite Harvard was traded for sorrow when the Tigers were beaten at the finish line in another wild game, 37-35 at Cornell.
Kicking has been an adventure for Cornell's John Wells, but Wells hit a 24-yard field goal, just his fifth in 11 attempts this season with 50 seconds remaining, to lift the Big Red (4-3, 2-2) to victory and hand Princeton (4-3, 3-1) its first Ivy League loss.
Penn's win, Princeton's loss and Harvard's 31-14 victory under the lights at Dartmouth (4-3, 2-2) threw the Ancient Eight title chase back into a three-way tie.
A week after upsetting Penn, Yale (2-5, 1-3) fell in another late comeback to Columbia (2-5, 1-3), 26-22, in the other Ivy League game on Saturday.
Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews had hit 35-of-51 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns to put his team on top 34-28 heading to the fourth quarter, but Princeton's backup signal-caller Quinn Epperly came off the bench to throw a six-yard scoring toss to Mark Hayes and Nolan Bieck sent through the extra point to give the Tigers a 35-34 edge with 8:49 left.
But that was too much time for the Princeton defense to hold off the strong-armed Mathews.
The last thing anyone would have expected at Penn after a sluggish first-half for both teams was a fantastic finish.
A year ago, a freak snowstorm blanketed the east coast and left the offenses spinning when Brown slopped out a 6-0 triumph over Penn on a day more suited for polar bears than football.
While the forecast of Hurricane Sandy's arrival in the next couple of days had folks in Philly abuzz about a possible perfect storm on Saturday and cut down on Penn's homecoming crowd of 13,569, the cloudy and pleasantly cool conditions were not to blame for the lack of offense this time around.
When ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer coach John McKay was once asked about his team's execution, he said "I'm all for it."
Penn coach Al Bagnoli and Brown coach Phil Estes would have probably expressed similar sentiments in the first half of this game when their two attacks spun their wheels repeatedly in first 30 minutes of play.
Penn (3-4, 3-1) finally broke through on a 22-yard pass from Billy Ragone to Connor Scott with 2:37 left in the second period to make it 7-0.
But the Quakers got greedy and called some time outs to get the ball one more time when Brown had still one more three and out.
When Penn couldn't move the ball either, it left just enough time for the Bears to get on the board with a 46-yard Alexander Norocea field goal on the final play of the half.
Brown (4-3, 2-2) took a 10-7 lead midway through the third period on a 10-yard TD pass from Patrick Donnelly to Tellef Lundevall, but Penn answered when Ragone came through with a 36-yard scoring strike to Jason Seifert late in the third quarter.
The Bears needed a completion from Donnelly to Lundevall at the Quaker two to convert a fourth and 15 play into a first and goal and Cody Taulbee banged in to provide Brown with a 17-14 lead with 3:47 remaining.
But from there, Brown largely self-destructed and Penn made enough clutch plays to win.
A 46-yard return from Dexter Davis, who grabbed the ball away from one of his teammates in the end zone got the Quakers into position for the first Loftus field goal and the sophomore hit it from a career-long 45 yards, squeezing it just inside the left upright to tie the game.
That tie didn't look to last long when All-American A.J. Cruz returned the ensuing kickoff all the way for a Bear touchdown.
Brown celebrated the 99-yard score until it saw a yellow flag on the ground near the point of attack. A holding call wiped out with around two minutes to play.
"I saw a touchdown, and (the officials) threw a flag," said Estes. "There's probably holding on every play, but it was certainly bad timing for us."
Few coaches loath overtime as much as Penn's Bagnoli and it appeared that this was where the game was heading until Trevor Niemann intercepted a Donnelly pass — one of four on the day for the Quakers — at the Brown 44 with 81 seconds remaining.
"Brown took a few chances earlier in the game and I expected them to do it again," said Niemann. "Our cover two defense was ready and I was in the right place in the right time. That one was thanks to the coaches."
Ragone (211 yards of total offense) sprinted for 15 yards and a first down, gain two more yards on a run and passed for five to Eric Fiore to get Loftus in position for an easier 30-yard attempt.
"The snap and hold were great," Loftus said. "I have a ton of confidence in those guys and it felt like any other kick. I went through my normal routine and that's the only way to do it."
Sparked by the confidence from his earlier kick Loftus drilled this one through with 17 seconds on the clock to give Penn another lead and a Feerooz Yacoobi interception on the final play of the game sealed the comeback victory.
"The game was as choppy as we've had," said Bagnoli. "Ultimately it's a game of turnovers, and until today we struggled on defense to create them. We finally got on the plus side of the turnover battle, and I think when you can do that and can be good in the kicking game, it gives you chances to win."