Penn looking to clinch a piece of Ivy title against Harvard

Posted: November 12, 2010

Penn was the defending Ivy League champion, and had just about everybody back. Still, Harvard was the preseason favorite. Which didn't mean zilch at the time, just something to file away for future reference.

Tomorrow, at Franklin Field, the Quakers (7-1, 5-0 Ivy League) can clinch at least a piece of another title by beating Harvard (6-2, 4-1), something they did last year on the road but couldn't get done in 2008 at home.

That was also their last Ivy loss.

And the fact that they weren't picked to repeat won't be forgotten.

"Our kids will be fired up [anyway]," coach Al Bagnoli said. "And if you want to throw one more thing on top of that, we can. Which we probably will. But if I didn't say a word, it wouldn't really matter . . .

"But I just may."

You figured the race would come down to this, since it often has.

Penn won 12 months ago, 17-7. The last time Harvard came here, it won, 24-21. The Quakers were in position to at least kick a short field goal and force overtime, but threw an end-zone interception instead.

The Crimson has taken two of the last three meetings in West Philly.

"It definitely gives us confidence, that we went up there and got a win," Penn senior center Joe D'Orazio said. "The last 3 years, this is the game that everyone's had their eyes on. It's fun to be part of that. At the beginning of the season, you want these games to mean something. That's all you can ask, is to be in this situation. Especially in the Ivy League, where there are no [FCS] playoffs.

"It's my last home game. There's so much history there. As a senior, you just want to make sure we're leaving our mark in the right fashion."

Sounds like incentive enough. Just in case, Bagnoli can always remind them.

"I think a small part of you takes a little offense to [being picked second]," D'Orazio acknowledged. "It's like, 'OK, we're still going to play Penn football, and take care of what we need to take care of, and let the standings sort itself out.' But in the back of your mind, you know, it's still there.

"I think our motivation is to win an Ivy League championship. I don't think it's trying to beat Harvard or prove anyone wrong, or to win back-to-back titles. It's to win in 2010. That's our main focus."

The Quakers finish next week at Cornell (2-6, 1-4), while Harvard hosts Yale (6-2, 4-1).

Penn, ranked 18th in FCS, has won consecutive titles twice under Bagnoli: in 1993-94 and 2002-03. None was shared.

Villanova on rebound

The Wildcats (6-3, 4-2 Colonial Athletic Association) are coming off a bad, 17-14 loss at Rhode Island. Still, the defending national champs are No. 9. Had they won they would have been No. 1, since the top two teams also went down.

Now they get No. 15 New Hampshire (5-4, 3-3) at home, where they haven't lost in 2 years, before closing at No. 2, once-beaten Delaware, which they've beaten the last 4 years. So . . .

"We really have reduced things to its lowest common denominator," coach Andy Talley said. "And that is, this is our Super Bowl, Saturday at noon. That's kind of where we are.

"The kids feel like they still have life. They've very confident. A lot of them have been through a lot [the last 2 years]. Now, they've been smacked in the mouth. We have to win this game. That's the way we're looking at it. That's just the way our league is right now. If not, it's go to Delaware, flip a coin and see what happens."

The Wildcats lost at New Hampshire last season by four. They won the rematch in the playoff quarterfinals, on the Main Line in the snow, 46-7.

Even a 7-4 Villanova team will probably get into the playoff field, which has been expanded from 16 teams to 20.

"I think anybody from our league that gets in can make a run," Talley said. "I think it's wide open. We still have a chance to be special. I just want to get in. Then we'll play anybody, anywhere, I don't care."

If the Wildcats win out, they could even get some home games. And they'll probably get their best player, Matt Szczur, back for Delaware. He has been out since Sept. 25 with an ankle injury. *

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