When you lose your first two league games on the last play, you can be excused for seeing ghosts. That may have been what Penn wideout Christian Pearson saw when a Will Fischer-Colbrie pass hit him in stride near the goal line. The 45-yard touchdown was going to break a tie with Yale 3 1/2 minutes before halftime Saturday at Franklin Field. Only Pearson did not catch the ball.
Next thing you know, Penn is facing a third-and-30; Yale is rolling down the field for a touchdown and a two-point conversion 30 seconds before halftime.
It was the kind of sequence that could have broken a team’s spirit. Only Penn converted two fourth-quarter fumble recoveries into a field goal and a 2-yard touchdown run by Tre Solmon with minutes, 3 seconds left to retake the lead. However, Yale, which had been averaging 41 points per game, fifth in FCS, came right back to score on a 4-yard TD pass from Kurt Rawlings to Christopher Williams-Lopez with 4:11 remaining, forced a three-and-out, then ran the clock out, winning, 24-19.
“Obviously a disappointing day,” Penn coach Ray Priore said. “Our kids worked hard and prepared hard. The fourth quarter has not been nice to us over the last couple of weeks. … Their hearts are in it, just not capitalizing on opportunities you’re going to have.”
Yale (5-1, 2-1 Ivy) dominated on the ground, outrushing Penn 217 yards to 60. Tailback Zane Dudek, who has set a Yale freshman touchdown record with nine and once ran for 492 yards in a Pennsylvania high school game, rushed for 103 yards on 12 carries.
Penn’s Justin Watson, one of the best receivers in Ivy history, got his school-record tying 27th receiving TD on the Quakers’ opening possession, a crossing pattern just beyond the line of scrimmage that ended with a perfectly angled dash to the pylon for a 23-yard TD. Watson, a likely mid-round 2018 NFL draft choice, finished with 10 catches for 120 yards, his Ivy-record 16th 100-yard receiving game. The records did not make him feel any better.
“Losing hurts,” Watson said, “whether you had the lead or didn’t. … We hate losing, period. There’s a locker room full of guys that feel the same way.”
Penn (2-4) is 0-3 in the Ivy for the first time since 1996. These Quakers could just as easily be 3-0. Instead, the two-time defending league champs are out of the race before the end of October.