By Sam Bush
It was a bittersweet Saturday for retiring Penn coach Al Bagnoli.
After 23 years, he is going out as a very successful Quaker coach with 147 wins, but his team couldn’t get him a win in its final 2014 home game at Franklin Field.
With Saturday’s 34-24 victory over Penn, Harvard secured at least a tie for the Ivy League championship.
The Crimson will go for the outright championship next Saturday when Harvard, ranked 17th in the Football Championship Subdivision, hosts Yale (8-1). Harvard (9-0) has now won 16 Ivy titles.
The accomplishment at Franklin Field looked as if it would be a walk along 32nd Street, as Harvard scored the first time it touched the ball.
A 10-yard punt set Harvard up at the Penn 42, and on first down junior running back Paul Stanton broke right and outraced everyone to the end zone (photo above). It was one of three touchdowns for Stanton on the day. He finished with 235 yards on the ground.
His 75-yard sprint put Harvard on top, 14-10, and a 21-yard field goal by senior Andrew Flesher put Harvard ahead, 17-10, right before the half.
There was little reason to think a one-win Penn team would make this a game, but with Bagnoli coaching his final home game after 23 seasons, his kids clearly had a Gipper mentality.
Penn came out in the third and tied the score, and three minutes later had a 24-17 lead.
“We had to dig down inside ourselves,’’ said Harvard senior defensive lineman Zack Hodges, who had a second-quarter sack.
The dig began early in the fourth quarter with Flesher’s 38-yard field goal, and after holding Penn on downs, Harvard put together a three-play, 59-yard drive to go ahead for good.
The touchdown came on a 28-yard pass from junior Scott Hosch to senior tight end Ty Hamblin. Hamblin told his quarterback he could get open on the play. He released, and the pass over the middle put the champs back ahead, 27-24.
With just under seven minutes to play, Stanton capped his day with a 14-yard TD run.
“The first two touchdowns I have to credit the offensive line,’’ he said. “The last one, I knew I had to get in to finish off the game.’’
That he did, setting up next Saturday’s game — a.k.a. The Game.
“I don’t want to think about Yale,’’ Murphy said. “These kids have worked so hard; 300-plus days for only 10 games. They should enjoy this.’’
Another win will better Harvard’s total from last season, which ended in a shared title with Princeton. The Tigers were knocked out of the Ivy race Saturday.
Harvard put up 469 total yards on a sunny but breezy day that began with temperatures in the low 40s. Penn had 308 total yards but was forced to punt a half-dozen times. Twice it came up short in the red zone.
“We knew we were in for a 60-minute game,’’ Bagnoli said. “We played well for a high percentage of that, but we left points on the field.’’
The win was Harvard’s tenth straight on the road and 13th in a row overall. Although Penn was the first team to score more than 18 points against the Crimson this season, the only number Harvard is interested in is one.
As in one more win.
“It’s a remarkable accomplishment,’’ Murphy said about the three straight championships, “and you don’t want to take that for granted.
“You get into this game because you love the game,’’ he added. “You stay in the game because you love the kids.’’