PHILADELPHIA - This is undoubtedly the best stretch in program history for the University of Pennsylvania football team against arch rival Princeton. For the third straight season, the Quakers posted a four-touchdown win over the Tigers - the first time such a stretch has ever occured. This time, it was a 37-9 victory in front of a Homecoming crowd of 17,179 at Franklin Field on Saturday.
In the 103rd meeting between the schools, Penn improved to 5-3 on the year and 4-1 in Ivy play. The win set up a national television showdown with Ivy unbeaten Harvard (7-1, 5-0 Ivy) in Cambridge next Saturday. Its a must-win for the Quakers as a loss will eliminate them from Ivy title contention.
Princeton failed to score more than 10 points against the Quakers for the fifth straight season - senior Erik Rask's career-high 16 tackles were the most for a Penn player since 2005 - and the Tigers fell to 1-7 overall, 1-4 against league opponents.
Over the last three years, Penn has outscored Princeton 131-26, an average margin of victory of 35.0 points. The Quakers have scored 18 touchdowns to the Tigers' two and have outscored Princeton 65-0 in the second half of those games, including 23-0 on Saturday.
It was just 14-9 at the half, but two second-half touchdown passes to sophomore wideout Ryan Mitchell and a pick six from senior Matt Hamscher turned the Homecoming game into a rout by the time of the traditional toast toss.
Leading by eight late in the third quarter, Penn scored two touchdowns within 47 seconds. Junior Billy Ragone, who finished with a career-best 254 yards through the air, hit Mitchell in stride down the middle of the field for a 54-yard touchdown pass and a 24-9 lead with 4:43 to go in the third quarter.
Two plays later, Hamscher scored his first career defensive touchdown at Penn - he has also passed for one, rushed for one and caught one during his career - when he corralled an interception on the home sideline. The former running back saw open space on the opposite side of the field and sprinted to daylight, stopping in the end zone with a 30-9 Penn lead.
The Quakers tacked on another score on their next offensive possession. Ragone, who now has 999 career rushing yards, led the Red and Blue 73 yards in 10 plays and capped it with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell.
Penn jumped all over Princeton in this game a year ago, taking a 28-0 lead in the first quarter en route to setting school records with 52 points and a 42-point win for the first time against Princeton.
That was not at all the case Saturday, as it was the youthful Tigers who threw the first punch. After kicking off to the Quakers, the Princeton defense held Penn to a three-and-out and then compounded that by blocking Scott Lopano's punt and recovering it at the Quakers' 11-yard line. Penn was able to keep the Tigers out of the end zone, and the Tigers settled for a 25-yard field to take a 3-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. It was Princeton's first lead over Penn since 2006.
Penn took the lead for good on its third possession of the game. The covered 90 yards but took just five plays, the key being a 42-yard pass play from Ragone to Calvert. Just one play after that, Ragone lofted a pass to senior Joe Holder in the right corner of the end zone for the touchdown, and it was 7-3.
Princeton closed to within one at the end of the first quarter after yet another blocked punt that ended up at Penn's 11-yard line. The Tigers lost 10 yards on their first play as the Quakers snuffed out a double-reverse halfback option, but got seven of them back before a 31-yard field goal made it 7-6.
Once again, the score seemed to wake up the Quakers. As Ryan Becker stepped in at quarterback for a series, the Red and Blue went 64 yards on nine plays on the way to paydirt. This time it was junior Jeff Jack with the score, as he ran it in from three yards out.
Princeton's offense was steady most of the first half against a bend-but-don't-break Penn defense, and late in the half the Tigers got a third field goal with a 44-yard field goal to send the Tigers into the half, trailing just 14-9.
Loftus started the scoring in the second half when his 44-yard field goal matched a career-long effort and gave Penn a 17-9 lead with 5:37 remaining in the third quarter. Just two minutes later, the Quakers were up 30-9.
Ragone was 16-for-27 and matched a career high with three passing touchdowns without an interception. Senior Ryan Calvert tied career highs with eight receptions and 122 receiving yards, while Mitchell finished with 84 yards. Senior Joe Holder also matched a career best with four catches. Seven different Quakers had a reception as Becker finished 5-for-7 with 48 yards passing.
Rask's 16 takedowns were the most for a Quaker since Ric San Doval had 18 in the season finale six years ago. His three tackles for loss - for 16 yards - were also a career high. Junior Steve Lias had his first career double-digit tackle total with 10. Junior Justyn Williams had one of Penn's two sacks and a forced fumble. Senior Joe Silberzweig had Penn's other sack - the first of his career.
Kickoff is at noon on VERSUS against the Crimson next Saturday.