Penn’s Ivy League opener is next week, against Dartmouth at home. And the seven league games are what ultimately will define a team that’s going for a third straight championship, something the program hasn’t done since winning five in a row from 1982 to 1986.
But these Quakers are looking for more.
They want to win them all, something that hasn’t happened in West Philly since 2003. And that was the only time they’ve gone unbeaten in the last 23 years.
Which brings us to Saturday afternoon’s bus ride to Lehigh for their first road game. The Mountain Hawks are 0-3. Yet they’ve beaten Penn each of the last two seasons by 21 points. So …
“This is a great measuring stick for us,” said senior wide receiver Justin Watson, who had eight catches for for 134 yards and two touchdowns in an opening 42-24 win over Division II Ohio Dominican at Franklin Field. “Our goal is to go out and win every week. We’re not treating any of them as being more important. They’re all a challenge.
“We seen what [Lehigh] can do. They’ve had some injuries, but they can still score. So we’re going to have to move the ball and put some points up, help the defense out. The last two years we played them in our first game, so there was some of that getting our feet wet. Even though we didn’t play an FCS team, at least we have that speed-of-the-game thing under our belt.
“They were in the playoffs last year. That’s the kind of [opponent] we’re expecting.”
Last year, the Quakers led, 28-21, late in the first half. Taking advantage of a short field, Lehigh tied the game on the last snap before intermission, then owned the closing 30 minutes, 21-0.
In 2015, the Mountain Hawks won, 42-21, in Penn’s last trip to Bethlehem, Pa.
“We’ve been there,” said third-year coach Ray Priore. “Our first year we started 1-3 [before sweeping their last six]. They’re trying to find their way a little bit. They’re still averaging 30 a game. That typically adds up to a lot of wins.”
They’ve also given up 38 to Villanova, 46 at Monmouth and 56 last week to Yale. So Goodman Stadium hasn’t made much of a difference so far.
“Our kids are excited about getting the next one,” Priore went on. “They know they need to keep getting better. And the cliche is you make your biggest development from Game 1 to Game 2. Hopefully we have that in us.”
The Quakers other nonleague game is Oct. 7 at Central Connecticut State (0-3), a team they beat last season, 28-16, here.
“You have to respect everyone,” Watson stressed. “You can’t make excuses. You know you’re going to have to deal with some adversity. Last year we weren’t able to finish [against Lehigh]. They’re going to beat some people. I’m sure they’d like to get that started with us.”
The Quakers and their new starting quarterback, Will Fischer-Colbrie, trailed Ohio Dominican, 10-7, at the break. Then they scored 35 points in a 20-minute stretch of the third and fourth quarters. It helped that they rushed for 302 yards on 33 carries, despite losing Tre Solomon early with an ankle injury.
Each journey is different. They Quakers are 1-0 for the first time in four years, and just the third time since 2006. They’ve shown you don’t have to be 2-0 to end up with a ring. They dropped their first two a year ago. But if you’re thinking perfection, there’s no room for even the slightest misstep.
Self-induced or otherwise.
“We’ll never be totally satisfied,” said Watson. “That’s kind of our thing around here. We’re always happy with a win. But the most important thing is knowing there’s always something you can correct.
“We have a lot of guys you can count on. It’s awesome when you come off the field after a three-and-out and on the sideline everybody’s going, ‘I got it. I’ll make a play the next series.’
“That’s a pretty special feeling. … This week, we’re representing the Ivy League. That’s a cool thing.”
Which means Dartmouth and the rest of those really meaningful games can hold.