The football team's hopes of an Ivy League championship rely heavily on their Saturday matchup at Penn, against a team Head Coach Phil Estes said may be hungry for revenge on the Bears.
"The whole thing about Penn is that we shut them out last year," Estes said. That victory snapped the Quakers' 18-game Ivy winning streak, which landed them league titles for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The Penn squad (2-4, 2-1 Ivy) has struggled this year and is coming into the battle against the Bears (4-2, 1-2) after a 27-13 loss to Yale.
"We're playing them at home - I'm sure they've got a chip on their shoulder," Estes added. "And plus, the way they look at things, if they beat us, they keep themselves in the Ivy race."
The Bears are still in the running after taking down Cornell last weekend, 21-14, with some of their best playing of the season. Bruno raked in a season-high 452 yards on offense and bullied Big Red quarterback Jeff Mathews, 2011's Ivy League Player of the Year, with three interceptions and three sacks.
Tailback Jordan Reisner '14, Bruno's fifth-stringer only two weeks ago, made a quick mark with 193 rushing yards and two touchdowns. With Spiro Theodhosi '13, Cody Taulbee '14 and Mark Kachmer '13 all sitting out with injuries, Reisner took his first real chance at collegiate play and cashed it in for extraordinary success, earning the New England Football Writers' Gold Helmet Award as New England's Player of the Week.
"I wasn't even sure what it was when I got it, but (Coach Estes) explained it to me," Reisner said. "It's very rewarding."
Theodhosi won the same award for his 120-yard performance against Holy Cross Sept. 15.
Without their top three running backs, the Bears prepared themselves to reorganize their offense and fill the holes where their formidable ball carriers had once been. But Reisner's impressive performance has made the adjustments easier.
"As a team, we know what we're capable of doing," Reisner said. "We feel like we're in stride."
If the Quakers can slow that pace, Estes said, they will do it with a daunting defense that is "as good on the run as they are on the pass."
"They play in a really aggressive style. Once that ball is thrown, or that ball is handed off, there are 11 guys that are attacking it," he added.
Penn's formidable defensive line, led by First Team All-Ivy Brandon Copeland, may be tough to handle, and Reisner said the Penn defense can be exceptionally hard to read.
"Penn does a little bit more disguising, so I think the biggest challenge will be recognizing what defense they're in," he said.
The Quakers' previous opponent handled that defense effectively last week. The Bulldogs registered 376 offensive yards on their way to the victory, and Penn did not manage any sacks or force any turnovers. The Quakers are seventh in the Ivy League in points allowed ranked third from the bottom in yards allowed per game.
The Bears' defensive squad proved themselves by completely shutting down the Big Red's running game last week, yielding zero net yards.
Defensive lineman Ross Walthall '13 said the Bears' rush defense will be key against the Quakers and their quarterback, Billy Ragone, who tucked it away and ran 45 yards against Yale.
"Their quarterback is a very different player" from Mathews, Walthall said. "He's a lot faster."
Ragone can be a threat in the air, Estes said, but the Bears' defensive success Saturday will hang on the run game. "They're a running offense that lives off a little bit of the play action," he said.
"It comes down to toughness," Walthall said. "And we need to stop the run."
With a conference record one game worse than the Quakers', Donnelly said this weekend's contest is "a must-win" for Bruno, whose championship chances would fade with a loss.
"It's like us against the world right now," Donnelly said.
And for some of the older Bears, part of the motivation is personal, he added. "We don't forget two years ago when we went down there ... pretty much with the championship on the line, and we got beat," he said. "Still leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths."
Both teams will be looking to avenge losses this week, but Walthall said the Penn-Brown battle is always exceptional.
"We always have a really exciting game with Penn," he said. "Every single year both teams bring their best, and it's just a game that means a lot to all of us."