Saturday, the Penn varsity football team took on quite possibly the toughest Ivy League opponent of the year: itself.
Wrapping up spring practices, the team played its annual spring game at Franklin Field.
Officiated by a full crew with coaches up in the box and full player contact, it is the closest simulation the new team will get to a real game until the fall. As such, it represents the best opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the team going into next season.
“We had a ton of young kids who we needed to bring to the next level,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “So we had to see how the young kids reacted with the officials under stress, and how quickly they could pick up the offense and defense.”
Though the offense technically “won,” 41-33, Bagnoli measured success a bit differently.
“As far as I’m concerned, we won because nobody got hurt badly,” he said.
An important aspect of the spring game was the intermixing of first and second-team players, as coaches look at the progress of younger players who will have to step up in the fall to replace the large gap left by the 33 graduating seniors.
“We’ve got some talented kids, but they all have to take the next step, and that’s what this scrimmage is really devoted to,” Bagnoli said. “Our upperclassmen probably played 15-18 snaps the entire day out of 67. The rest of it was just for the young kids.”
In that vein, the quarterbacking duties were evenly spread between sophomore starter Billy Ragone, sophomore Andrew Holland and freshman Tyler Hamilton. Holland led the Quakers’ passers, going 8-of-12 for 94 yards, with a 50-yard touchdown bomb to freshman wide receiver Conner Scott.
Fellow freshman wideout Aaron Bailey, who led the team with 56 all-purpose yards, highlighted the Red and the Blue’s young talent.
For Bailey, the spring game represented the chance for the Quakers to show the potency of their improved passing attack, which ranked last in the league last year. The running game appears to be solid, as the team returns junior Jeff Jack and sophomores Brandon Colavita and Lyle Marsh from the league-leading rushing attack.
“We wanted to work on our passing game a lot, also because we wanted to show people that we’re not just going to run the ball down your throat all the time,” Bailey said.
Though both the offense and defense showed flashes of brilliance, Bagnoli is quick to point out the areas that need work.
“Lots of offensive linemen graduated. We have to get that solidified — that will be priority number one,” he said. “We have to continue to improve at the fullback position,” where Luke DeLuca graduated.
On defense, Bagnoli said the Quakers need to focus on improving the defensive backfield, as well as developing a young inside linebacking corps.
Overall, however, Bagnoli was pleased with the outcome of the game, as the main goal is to help develop the young players, rather than definitively answer any lingering questions going into next season.
“There are a lot of young kids who are anxious — I just wanted to see kids compete,” Bagnoli said. “I wanted to see kids give and take on offense and defense, one play our offense win, the next play our defense win. It’s all predicated on getting some young kids ready for next year.”
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