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Fueled by the promise of a conference championship, Penn football played like a team on a mission on Saturday, out-running, out-tackling, out-maneuvering and, overall, out-playing a Cornell squad hoping to derail the Quakers’ coronation ceremony.
Piling up 527 yards of offense on Cornell, the Quakers bulldozed their way to a 42-20 victory in Ithaca on Cornell’s senior day. With Princeton’s victory over Dartmouth, Penn earns a share of the league title for the second straight year.
“This game I really thought we were competitive up until the end,” said head coach David Archer ’05. “We just couldn’t overcome some of the things that you have to overcome to be able to beat a championship-caliber team.”
Cornell ends its season 4-6, the best finish in Archer’s four-year tenure as head coach and a marked improvement from the Red’s one-win seasons from 2014 and 2015.
Archer had tremendous praise for the senior class, whose leadership he’s praised consistently throughout the season.
“These [seniors] have pushed us to where we’re a competitive a football team right now,” Archer said. “That’s not easy, you have to be a true believer and you have to put in so much extra work to go from noncompetitive to competitive.”
In the seniors’ final game of their careers, Penn got on the board first when the league’s leading rusher Tre Solomon punched the ball in from one yard out. The junior gained 173 yards on ground in Saturday’s game.
Cornell’s offense was sluggish on the first drive, but began to find a rhythm as the first quarter matured. Last week, a fake punt was critical to the team’s win over Columbia. Against Penn on Saturday, Cornell used a trio of trick plays to try to stay in the game.
The first of the three was sophomore running back Chris Walker’s 35-yard pass that ignited Cornell’s first scoring drive of the day. Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Dalton Banks lofted a pass to senior Collin Shaw for a touchdown.
Cornell threatened again five minutes into the second quarter, but the team’s offensive momentum was derailed when Penn’s Mason Williams picked off Banks in the endzone. It was the first of three interceptions on the day for Cornell.
The Quakers got the ball back and marched down the field, eventually scoring on a five-yard run from quarterback Alek Torgersen.
The Red used a little more trickery in the second half to close the Quakers’ lead to eight. After the snap, Banks flipped the ball to Walker, who in turned tossed it to Rogers. The senior patiently waited behind the line of scrimmage and then launched the ball to Walker who danced past three Penn defenders for the score.
“[Rogers] has been lobbying me [to throw the ball] for four years,” Archer said. “He was a high school quarterback and I got to personally recruit him. Last game, let it rip.”
In his final game in a Cornell uniform, Rogers notched 84 receiving yards and and 81 passing yards. He ends his career in the top-15 all time in program history in all-purpose yards.
“Why not pull out all your tricks in the last game?” Rogers said. “We’ve had that in our back pocket for a while. It worked out that we were getting the coverage that we wanted.”
Later in the half, the Red thought it had escaped to halftime, trailing by just eight. Penn’s drive had run out of time and Cornell jogged towards the locker room. But the refs motioned for the team to come back, claiming that Penn head coach Ray Priore had called a timeout with six seconds left, giving the Quakers one more shot to add to their lead.
Solomon would go on to score his second touchdown of the day, dropping the Red into a 28-13 halftime deficit.
Penn furthered its lead with some deception of its own in third quarter. With the Quakers on the Cornell seven-yard line, Torgersen lateraled the ball to Nick Demes, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound offensive linemen. The senior thundered into the endzone for the score, giving Penn a 22-point lead.
Cornell showed flashes of the team that orchestrated a stunning comeback against Colgate earlier in the season when the Red tried yet another trick play. Backup quarterback Jake Jatis lateraled the ball to Rogers. The receiver again waited patiently until Jatis and launched the ball to the quarterback who fought through two Quakers for a 23-yard gain.
“Jatis made an unbelievable play,” Rogers said. “That was completly him on that one. It was fun, you like to go out there and try to make something happen and luckily we were able to.”
Banks’ ensuing touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Marshall Deutz shrank the Penn lead to 15 points.
Cornell had a chance to further cut into the deficit when sophomore cornerback DJ Woullard made his first pick since his two-interception day against Bucknell in the season opener.
But Penn’s defense made sure nothing came of the mistake and intercepted Banks on the very next play.
The Quakers’ added one more touchdown and killed the clock, capturing the win and the conference title.
Despite the loss, Rogers and senior captain and linebacker Jackson Weber mentioned that the work of the senior class has helped the program make strides towards winning conference titles.
“You come into a place like Cornell and you want to win a lot of football games, you want to win Ivy League championships,” Weber said, “but over that, you want to leave the place better than you found it. … Like the classes that came before us, we’ve been laying the bricks, we’re continuing to build.”
While the loss is certainly stinging in the moment, Archer, with his eye perpetually on what is next, knows preparing for next season begins now.
“We hit the recruiting trail,” Archer said. “We have to recruit and develop players and keep pushing it in the right direction. If you recruit guys like these [Rogers and Weber] and some of their buddies, it’ll keep us going in the right direction.”