A Century-long Losing Streak

If there was ever a year for the Penn football team to take down Villanova, it was this one. Heading into the September 24 clash between the local rivals, Villanova sported an unflattering 0-3 record, had been outscored by a staggering 93-26 margin, and was shuffling between freshmen and walk-ons at the important quarterback position.

But just like in years past, the Wildcats found a way to slip past Penn. Or, perhaps the better way to phrase it is: Just like in years past, Penn found a way to let the game slip away.

In an early-season showdown at Franklin Field, the rebuilding Wildcats ran two interceptions back for touchdowns—including one in the final seconds—to take advantage of Penn’s miscues and escape with a 30-21 victory. The win was Villanova’s 11th straight over Penn, which last beat the Wildcats exactly 100 years ago.

“I was getting some good vibes and good feelings that maybe this was our year,” Penn senior defensive back Matt Hamscher said. “And, you know, just like the past four, five years, it came down to the last drive.”

Indeed, while the Wildcats have enjoyed a century-long stranglehold over their Philly neighbors, they rarely have an easy time against Penn, even in their best seasons. The Quakers lost by less than one score in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008, and came within two TDs of Villanova’s national championship-winning squad of 2009. Last year, the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision when Penn played them, but the Quakers led with five minutes to go before losing by 12.

“Villanova is a great team,” said Hamscher, who led Penn with 12 tackles in this season’s loss to ’Nova. “They’re a scholarship school; we’re not. It’s a little bit satisfying knowing maybe we could have won. But, at the same time, I’m still a competitor and I sure would have liked to win.”

If nothing else, the yearly games against Villanova are a good test for the Quakers heading into Ivy League play, even if the results don’t go their way. After falling to Villanova in each of the past two seasons, the Quakers went on to win all of their conference games. And this season, Penn rebounded from its loss to Villanova (and its season-opening setback to non-league foe Lafayette) to begin its quest for a third straight Ivy League title with a dramatic come-from-behind win over Dartmouth in the Big Green’s first-ever night game at Memorial Stadium.

“Before the [Villanova] game, that game matters more than any other,” Hamscher said. “But looking back on it, I would say it’s more like a preparation for Ivy League play. You’re going up against 300-pound linemen, quick linebackers, really fast receivers—it really prepares us for playing in the Ivy League.”

—Dave Zeitlin C’0


Nov|Dec 2011 Contents
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©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 10/28/11