ITHACA, N.Y. - What a finish. To the game. To the season. And to the careers of the Senior Class of 2013. The University of Pennsylvania football team clinched its third outright Ivy League championship in four seasons with the game-winning touchdown in the final minute of play to top Cornell, 35-28, at Schoellkopf Field on Saturday afternoon.
Of Penn's 16 Ivy League championships, the Quakers have won 13 of them outright - a league record. Head Coach Al Bagnoli has never shared a title and extended his own Ivy record with his ninth outright league championship.
In the 119th meeting between the two programs, Penn (6-4, 6-1 Ivy) also won the Trustees' Cup for the fifth time in six years. The Cup is awarded to the winner of the nation's fifth-oldest rivalry.
It was a typical ending for the Quakers. All but one Ivy League game this season was decided by one possession.
Cornell (4-6, 2-5 Ivy) tied the game, 28-28, with a touchdown and a two-point conversion with just 2:57 left.
Led by senior quarterback Andrew Holland, who made his first career start after senior Billy Ragone suffered a season-ending injury last week, the Quakers took over at their own 37-yard line. The outright Ivy title was on the line. Penn had to win to avoid sharing the title.
Holland was a perfect 3-for-3 on the drive for 38 yards and senior Lyle Marsh, who finished with his third-consecutive 100-yard rushing performance, ran twice for 12 yards to get the ball to the Cornell 3-yard line. Sophomore Spencer Kulcsar rushed it in from there and Penn had the lead, 35-28, with 1:00 left.
It wasn't over. Cornell moved the ball to midfield and then connected on a deep pass to the Penn 8-yard line with 17 seconds to play. A personal foul on Cornell moved the ball back to the 23-yard line. Then Cornell completed a pass back to the 8-yard line, but time expired before the Big Red could run another play. Once again, the Quakers were celebrating another Ivy title.
The start was just as wild as the finish. The Big Red fumbled on a lateral attempt on the third play of the game and senior captain Brandon Copeland fell on the ball at the Cornell 35. On Penn's first play, Holland connected with Greg Schuster in the flat and the fullback raced down to the one-yard line. Senior Jeff Jack barreled through the line on the next play for his eighth career touchdown and put Penn up 7-0 just 2:12 game.
But moments later, Cornell connected on a 65-yard touchdown pass. A missed extra point kept the Quakers in the lead, but it did not last long.
The Quakers were then backed up in their own end and Cornell returned a punt to the Penn 30. Just five plays later, the Big Red were in the end zone again - a three-yard rush - to take their first lead, 13-7, at the 2:38 mark of the opening quarter.
The tables turned in the second quarter as the defenses held the upper hand. The teams combined to punt six times - the last of which pinned Penn at its own 11-yard line with just 1:17 to play in the half.
Penn looked to be running out the clock with a three-yard rush. Then Cornell called a timeout and the Quakers went to the air. Holland found Marsh for nine yards, Jason Seifert for 10 yards and Conner Scott for 20 yards to get the ball in Cornell territory with 34 seconds left in the half. From the 41, Holland fired a pass into the end zone and Seifert - despite a pass interference call on Cornell - fought off the defender and hauled in the go-ahead score. The longest reception of his career gave the Red and Blue a 14-13 lead at intermission.
Penn's opening possession of the second half was another quick drive that also ended in a big play. Marsh broke a few arm tackles and then found daylight along the Penn sideline. He raced 55 yards to the end zone. The longest play of the season for the Quakers gave them a 21-13 lead just 1:51 into the third quarter.
Cornell went to the edge of the red zone on its ensuing drive. But on 4th-and-4 from the 23-yard line, junior cornerback Dan Wilk stepped in front of Jeff Mathews' pass for his second interception in as many weeks.
Penn went three-and-out, but Cornell fumbled the punt return and Jack fell on the ball at the Cornell 17. Five plays later, Holland took a quarterback sneak across the goal line for a 28-13 advantage with 3:51 to play in the third quarter.
Cornell closed to within 28-20 on its first drive of the fourth quarter then forced a Penn punt. The Big Red marched 80 yards on eight plays and tied the game with a touchdown and the two-point conversion.
Penn outrushed the Big Red, 126-27, led by Marsh's 111 yards on 19 carries (5.8 yards per carry). He was one of four different Quakers with a rushing touchdown.
Holland was spectacular filling in for Ragone - Penn's second-most productive offensive player of all-time (5,513 total yards). Holland was 18-for-22 (81.8%) for a career-high 255 yards with one passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown.
Scott had a team-high six catches and 71 receiving yards. He finished the season with 52 catches - 11th-most all-time at Penn - and 691 yards - 12th-most and the highest total since Matt Carre (697) in 2006. Seifert finished with a career-high 51 receiving yards on two catches.
Defensively, junior Sebastian Jaskowski had a team-high 11 tackles to match a career high. He finished with a team-best 72 tackles this year. Senior Dave Twamley added six tackles and finished second on the team with 63 for the year. Twamley also had a forced fumble, while senior Sam Chwarzynski recorded his first career sack in addition to a season-high six tackles. Wilk gave him a team-best three on the season.
This marked the final game for Penn's Senior Class of 2013, which claimed its third Ivy title ring - all outright. The seniors finished with a record of 28-12 (70.0%), including an impressive mark of 24-4 (85.7%) against the Ivy League and a 12-1 (92.3%) mark against Ivy opponents at Franklin Field. The 24 Ivy wins are the most for a senior class at Penn in seven years. This class was also a part of back-to-back undefeated Ivy seasons (just the third time that's ever happened), and won 18 consecutive Ivy League games - the second-longest streak in league history.
The rest of the returning Quakers will have some time off for the holiday before they set out to defend their Ivy League title.