PHILADELPHIA - Following Saturday’s Penn-Princeton football game the 99th in one of the Ivy League’s fiercest regional rivalries head coaches Al Bagnoli and Roger Hughes met at midfield to shake hands.
“All we could say to each other was that we may have set the offensive game back about 30 years,” Bagnoli joked in the press conference after his team came out with a 7-0 win.
It was the lowest-scoring game in the rivalry since before the Quakers and Tigers were Ivy League members: you have to go all the way back to a 7-0 Princeton win on Oct. 8, 1955. According to the league office, it was the lowest-scoring conference game since Sept. 19, 1998 when Princeton shut out Cornell, 6-0 and the second-lowest scoring Ivy game in the last 20 years. The last time Penn played anyone in a game so low-scoring was Oct. 18, 1980, when the Quakers lost to Lafayette 3-0.
The last time Penn (3-5, 2-3 Ivy) shut out Princeton (3-5, 2-3) was Oct. 27, 1973 (a 24-0 win), and the last time the Quakers shut out anyone was last year against Columbia (16-0).
Really, the highlight of the day was Penn’s senior running back, Joe Sandberg. Back in action after missing much of the Brown game last weekend, he ran 30 times for 158 yards, with nearly 90 of them coming in the third quarter when the Quakers scored the only points of the game on a 26-yard Sandberg scamper. He also caught a game-high six passes for 54 yards, giving him 212 all-purpose yards on a day when the entire Penn team gained 264.
Beyond that, this was a game dominated by defense. The teams combined for 21 punts (Penn 12, Princeton nine); gained a total of just 526 yards; and averaged less than four yards per play. Perhaps most telling, six of the Tigers’ 13 drives on the day were three-and-outs, while six of the Quakers’ 14 drives found the same fate.
Princeton finished the day a woeful 2-of-15 on third-down conversions; Penn was 6-of-19 in that category.
The first half was a scoreless affair, with the only real excitement coming when Princeton got inside Penn’s 10-yard line thanks to a screen pass from Greg Mroz to Rob Toresco that ended up going for 66 yards. However, the Quakers held the Tigers on first and second down, and then on third down Penn’s Britton Ertman sniffed out a corner route and picked Mroz off at the goal line, returning it 38 yards to get Penn out of trouble.
Other than that, the half was interesting only if you were here to see the punters -- Anthony Melillo had seven punts for Penn, while Princeton’s Ryan Coyle had six kicks. The teams combined for just 11 first downs and 224 total yards, with the Tigers’ running game being particularly ineffective (16 rushes, three yards).
Penn finally put digits on the scoreboard with its first drive of the second half, marching 60 yards in seven plays. The drive ended with Joe Sandberg rushing 26 yards up the middle to paydirt. The run put him over 100 yards for the day. The Quakers’ then looked like they might keep momentum, surprising Princeton with an onside kick that was recovered by Ertman. However, after a pair of first downs Penn was stopped and forced to punt.
As the third quarter progressed into the fourth, Princeton began getting more creative with its running plays, but the Penn defense remained steadfast. The Tigers generated some buzz near midfield early in the fourth with a fake punt that went for a first down, thanks to a tremendous effort by the runner, Ray Simnick. However, the end result was lost yardage over the next three plays and another punt by Coyle.
Bryan Walker completed 12 of 27 passes for 111 yards, with half of those catches being made by Sandberg. For Princeton, Bill Foran ran for 36 yards and threw for 91 to lead the Tigers.
Penn is back in action next Saturday at Harvard; kickoff from Cambridge is slated for 12:30 p.m.