PHILADELPHIA – It was déjà vu all over again for the University of Pennsylvania football team in its season finale against Cornell as the Quakers watched the Big Red build a big lead before mounting a furious rally which would ultimately be blocked at the most inopportune time in a 42-41 loss at Franklin Field on Saturday.
In the 120th meeting between these programs, the 83 combined points were the second-most in the history of the series - college football's fifth-most played rivalry. Cornell (3-7, 2-5 Ivy) also claimed the Trustees Cup from the Quakers (4-6, 3-4 Ivy) for the second time in the last three years.
After it appeared the Quakers would cruise to the win with leads of 14-0 and 21-7 in the first half, the Red and Blue found themselves staring down a 21-point deficit with 7:49 to play, trailing the Big Red, 42-21.
Freshman Alek Torgersen would lead the comeback attempt, connecting with sophomore wideout Cameron Countryman from 45-yards out with 7:09 to play on a strike which was the first career touchdown for both players. After Penn’s defense put up a stop, Torgersen again went to the air for a Penn score, connecting with senior Ty Taylor on a 25-yard touchdown pass to pull Penn within one score, 42-35, with 2:52 to play.
After struggling during the middle stages of the game to halt Cornell’s aerial attack, the Quakers dialed up a turnover at the right moment, senior Sam Chwarzynski stepped into a Jeff Mathews screen pass on 3rd-and-18 and returned the pick 39 yards for a touchdown, bringing Penn within one pending the extra point. The point after attempt was blocked, however, by Cornell’s Tre Minor to deny Penn the tie.
On Senior Day, fifth-year quarterback Ryan Becker helped stake Penn to a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter, throwing a career-high three touchdown passes along the way. His first score came three plays after senior Mason Smith recovered Cornell's muffed punt at the Big Red’s 13-yard line. Junior Kyle Wilcox took the handoff on the first two plays, before Becker slung a pass Wilcox’s way for a seven-yard touchdown.
Becker’s next completion also went for a score, finding Ty Taylor from 20 yards out just before the end of the first quarter to cap a brief, three-play, 56-yard drive. Sophomore running back Mike Elespuru had a big assist, breaking a 21-yard run to set up first down at the Cornell 20.
Cornell mounted its best drive to that point following Taylor’s touchdown, marching 61 yards on 10 plays, reaching the Penn six-yard line before lining up for a Joe Pierik 23-yard field goal. Chwarzynski got to the ball first though, blocking the field goal and keeping the Big Red off the scoreboard.
The shutout did not last for long. Cornell's Jeff Matthews, who threw for 476 yards on the day, finally found rhythm with favorite target Grant Gellatly on Cornell’s next drive. Matthews was 4-for-4 passing on the drive, the last two going to Gellatly for 31 and 25 yards, respectively, and Cornell’s first touchdown of the game.
Danny Ferens did his part to help the Quakers answer, returning the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to the Cornell 45. On first down, Becker would find senior Conner Scott for a 31-yard gain down to the Cornell 14. Two plays later, Becker would slip his third touchdown pass of the half to Elespuru from seven yards out for a 21-7 lead.
Those points would be the last Penn would score over the next 29:52 of play as Cornell mounted a rally and scored 35 unanswered points.
Matthews had a hand in four of the five touchdowns, throwing for three and running in a one-yard sneak of his own to help the Big Red build a 42-21 lead. The lone non-Matthews touchdown came off a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone by the Big Red.
The game was the final contest for Penn’s Senior Class of 2014 who will graduate with a 24-16 record and two Ivy League championships.
Scott had a team-high six catches for 88 yards, with classmate Taylor finishing his final game with four catches for a career-best 70 yards and two touchdowns. Taylor led the team with five touchdowns this season - tied for ninth-most in a single season at Penn. Senior Ryan Mitchell left the game early with an injury, but had three catches for 15 yards, including his 100th career reception early in the first quarter. He ends his career with 102 receptions, tied for sixth-most in Penn history. Scott, who is eligible for a fifth season next year, also reached the 100-catch plateau and ranks ninth in the school record book.
Becker threw for 146 yards in the game, and notched his third multi-touchdown game of the season. Fellow fifth-year quarterback Billy Ragone was extremely limited in action, but was placed in the game for the first two plays of the game. He capped his career with a six-yard pass which served as Mitchell's milestone catch. Ragone finished one of the greatest careers in school history. In addition to a school record 56 total touchdowns (36 pass, 20 rush), Ragone finished his career as the second-most productive offensive player in school history with 6,724 total yards (Gavin Hoffman holds the Penn record with 7,188). Ragone also finished third all-time at Penn in career passing yards (5,104), career completions (437) and career passing touchdowns (36).
Matthews was sacked six times, including twice by Chwarzynski. Feerooz Yacoobi and Dan Davis each had 1.5 sacks, while Austin Taps and Dan Connaughton combined on one. As a team, Penn had 11 tackles for loss in the game. Davis led all players with nine tackles, including seven by himself. Trevor Niemann added an interception for the Quakers.