These Championship Seasons?

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Football tops the Ivies; men’s basketball shocks Temple.

By Noel Hynd

Penn’s varsity football team, which figured to be in the hunt for the Ivy title this year, came away with the big prize — the undisputed Ivy League championship. The team sat close to the lead all year, then methodically and resolutely put away the competition when they had to.
   The squad beat Dartmouth (17-14) to open the season, then lost a non-league game to Richmond, 34-18. Non-league wins over Bucknell and Fordham followed, plus a 20-0 victory over Columbia. There the team sat with a 4-1 record, 2-0 in the Ivies. But this was hardly the stuff of championships, at least not yet, as the two Ivy wins were over a pair of weak Ivy teams. When Penn traveled to Brown and lost a wild 58-51 contest — which looked more like a basketball game on the scoreboard — one wondered how the season would play out. Brown, after all, was one of the stronger Ivy teams this year, despite two early season losses.
   The bizarre 58-51 Brown game, however, proved to be the turning point of the season. In the four contests that followed, Penn never trailed at any point. The pattern: score quickly and often in the first period, setting the tone of the game. Penn battered Yale 34-21, for example, in a game that was not as close at the score suggests. The following week at Princeton, Penn exploded for 21 points in the first 4:48 minutes of the game, courtesy of Princeton turnovers and some quick, methodical offensive execution by the Quakers. By the time the damage had been done, scores of Princeton fans were still wandering in from tailgate parties in the parking lot, doing doubletakes as they looked up at the scoreboard. The Princeton game was all the more important, as Princeton had been tied with Penn for the Ivy lead when the sun rose that Saturday morning. And we all know the fate that many Penn teams have suffered in Striped Cat Land.
   That left Penn alone with the league lead with two games to go. Harvard visited Franklin Field and saw Penn grab the lead on its first possession. The play that set the tone of the day, however, came at 7:47 of the first quarter when Penn senior quarterback Matt Rader connected for a 78-yard touchdown pass to junior Brandon Carson. The play was one of the most memorable of a memorable season.
   “The [Harvard] defensive back had actually stopped his coverage because [Carson] was about 50 yards downfield,” Rader said after the game. The Penn QB then lofted the ball some forty yards in the air to find his receiver. Following the point-after, Penn led 13-3. But Harvard was thoroughly deflated, and the Quakers continued to a 41-10 victory.
   The following week, Penn went to Ithaca to try to wrap up an undisputed Ivy crown. Again, the game rarely looked in doubt. Penn led 28-0, entering the fourth quarter, but Cornell cut the lead to 28-14. That’s when senior running back Jim Finn broke the game open. With Penn facing a second and 10 on its own 20 yard-line, Finn caught a pass from Matt Rader and ran for 71 yards — the second longest run of his career and longest this year. Three plays later, Finn went the final two yards for the TD, his 17th of the year. The final score was 35-21, and Penn had its first Ivy football title since 1994.
   Finn’s efforts in Ithaca left him with several Quaker records. Most impressively, his 1,450 rushing yards shattered the previous single-season mark of 1,302 set by Bryan Keys, C’90, in 1989. Finn’s 102 points in a season is third best in Quaker history, and the best total since 1940. Also particularly notable this year was the performance of Matt Rader at quarterback, whose one season total offense of 2,059 yards is the second-best, and whose 2,026 passing yards is the third-best, in Penn history.
   All in all, it was a season when even a loss contributed to something positive. Remember that wild 58-51 debacle in Providence? The old Penn record for points in a single season was 286 in 1984. This year’s team scored 287. They couldn’t have done it without the wild afternoon against Brown.
   And, oh yes, another set of goal posts found their way into the Schuylkill River. Someday there’s going to be an interesting salvage operation under the South Street Bridge.

Tradition upheld: Another goalpost on its way to the Schuylkill River following the football team’s final home victory against Harvard.

   Not to be outdone by their gridiron peers, men’s basketball started the season with an exclamation point. Nationally ranked Kansas (#8) visited the Palestra on November 15, and Penn was downright inhospitable to their visitors from the heartland — though Kansas still escaped with a close victory. A few days later, the Quakers met our old friends from North Philadelphia, the Temple Owls (then ranked sixth nationally).
   If Penn dished up as much as Kansas could handle, they dished up even more for Temple. Coming into the contest, the Owls had a 16-year winning streak against the Quakers. Coach John Chaney had never lost to Penn, and Penn’s coach Fran Dunphy had yet to beat Temple. All of which set the stage nicely.
   There is rarely a sporting event in Philadelphia as exciting as a close Big 5 basketball game. The November 23 Temple-Penn contest was no exception. Penn led 58-57 with 3.4 seconds left to play when Temple’s Lynn Greer went to the foul line to shoot two freethrows. Greer made the first shot, tying the game, but missed the second. Penn failed to score, and the game went to overtime.
   And what an overtime! Led by junior All-Ivy guard Michael Jordan, Penn scored three three-pointers in the extra five minutes to shock — shock! — Temple with a 73-70 Penn victory.
   “We have to work out with these guys all summer,” junior guard Matt Langel commented after the game. “We work out with [Temple players] Mark Macon, Eddie Jones, and Aaron McKie, and all they say is, ‘We come in here every year and kick your butt.’ Now we have something to say: ‘We won.'” The loss dropped Temple from sixth to 10th in the national ratings.
   What also may have been established is that this year’s Penn squad may have been underestimated. The Ivy season begins on January 8 against Yale at the Palestra and ends against Princeton at Jadwin on March 2. Anyone for a gridiron-hoop parlay?

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