Can the Penn football team get over the hump?


Penn hasn’t beaten Villanova in over a century, but the competition between the two schools remains intense


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“Electric” is the word senior defensive back Justyn Williams used to describe Villanova freshman quarterback John Robertson. “There is that extra threat of him going ahead and running, which means that you have to worry about that 11th man that much more.”

Photo by Laura Francis


The last time Penn football beat Villanova, President Taft was still in office.

The year was 1911.

This Saturday, in their home opener at Franklin Field, the Quakers (0-1) take on the Wildcats (2-1) with another chance to finally break the streak.

“This game has some merit just from the perspective of local interest of two schools being 15 miles away from each other. There’s quite a bit of buzz,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “It’s a non-league game, so we’re trying to answer some questions, like what can you do well and what you might struggle at, and Villanova’s a pretty good test to find out.”

Though the Red and Blue haven’t actually played the Wildcats every year for the past 101 years — there was a 69-year hiatus from 1911 to 1980 — they have for the past 11, and they are hoping this is the year they break the losing record against their local rival.

“This is our year,” senior defensive back Justyn Williams said. “We’ve got a very good team, very good defense and team as a whole. A lot of guys have had a lot of experience and we really just want to beat Villanova and finally break the streak.”

The games have been frustratingly close and down to the wire in the past few years.

“The thing that comes to mind when talking about this series is how many games have come down to the final drive or the final play,” Villanova coach Andy Talley wrote in an email. “There [have] been some crazy endings in this game over the years. This series is great for college football in Philadelphia.”

Last year’s matchup ended with a close but unsuccessful attempt at a comeback, 30-21. The year before ended in a loss in the final seconds.

“From our perspective, we’ve just got to do a better job,” said junior defensive back Sebastian Jaskowski, who received Ivy League honorable mention honors this week. “Like you saw last week, of keeping the ball on offense, and defensively we have to execute the ball and really just get the ball for the offense as much as possible this week.”

This year’s Villanova team brings a new challenge in redshirt freshman quarterback John Robertson, who has earned CAA Rookie of the Week honors two weeks in a row.

“We definitely understand that the quarterback is a really athletic kid — very good feet, can make plays outside of the pocket and things like that, running the ball, which is another threat we have to focus on as the defense,” Williams said. “He is pretty electric.”

The Quakers defense has their eyes on the whole Wildcats’ offense, though, especially their gun-and-run scheme.

Bagnoli added that the offensive side must avoid last week’s turnover trend and protect the football.

Striving for a more consistent offensive game, the question remains: Who will be at QB for the Quakers this week?

“They’ll both play,” Bagnoli said of Andrew Holland and Billy Ragone. “Hopefully people aren’t trying to make this a quarterbacking controversy. It’s really nothing like that … They’re best friends, they do a great job of managing the game. It gives some versatility, it gives some depth and they will both play again on Saturday.”

Outside of the gameplan itself, the two teams have different motives in this upcoming game.

“This game has good reason to be played, but obviously it’s a non-scholarship to a scholarship scenario,” Bagnoli said. “For us, we’re still trying to grow, and for them it’s Week 4, so that’s a little bit different.”

Talley added that this game serves as a good barometer for the season.

“I have always felt that Penn would be a top-level team in our league,” he wrote.

The ability to test the team and compete at a different level has kept this rivalry intact all of these years.

And after last week’s loss to Lafayette in the season opener, the players also have been pumped all week for this matchup.

“I can definitely tell you that people’s blood pressure is rising, their blood is pumping already,” Williams said. “To be honest, we really don’t like Villanova. I can tell you right now that we’re going to come out here Saturday and it’s going to be a high-skill game, very heated.

“We haven’t beat them in a while.”

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