EASTON, Pa. — It is not uncommon for a quarterback to have the jitters in his first game in 10 months. Or in his first-ever meaningful game.
But senior quarterback Billy Ragone was surprisingly off in the first quarter Saturday against Lafayette, throwing three interceptions in the first quarter alone. The Leopards pulled in seven picks total on the night and cashed in a 28-21 victory.
Lafayette (2-0) scored all its points off Penn turnovers.
The Quakers (0-1) gave the ball away a total of eight times — seven on interceptions and one on a crucial lost fumble in the fourth quarter.
“We just made a lot of mistakes and dug ourselves a major hole and tried to come back, which was very very difficult,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said.
The Quakers kept the game close in the second half, but offensive turnovers prevented a comeback. A fumble by Ryan Mitchell into the Lafayette end zone with 11:06 left in regulation prevented a likely Quakers touchdown.
“We had a chance to win, so kudos to our kids for not giving up,” Bagnoli said.
Backup quarterback Andrew Holland led Penn’s second-half comeback, but threw an interception with 1:19 remaining that sealed the Leopards’ victory.
Three-year starter Ragone threw five of Penn’s seven interceptions. He was temporarily benched for senior Holland after his third interception in the first quarter but came back in the second frame. Two additional picks later, Ragone was yanked for good.
“[He’ll] get back to his normal game soon enough,” wide receiver Conner Scott said. “I think its just the first-game jitters.”
Scott, a junior who missed last season with an arm injury, was the Quakers’ leading receiver with 12 catches for 161 yards.
Holland, who threw only six passes last season, looked prepared to step in.
“I got a lot of reps in practice,” Holland said. “Me and Billy have been switching in and out. I’ve been in the program for a couple years now so I know these guys pretty well.”
Bagnoli revealed that Holland has split practice time with the starters evenly with Ragone.
“Because of Billy’s style … he’s going to take some hits above and beyond hits in the pocket, so we hedge our bets,” Bagnoli said.
Apart from turnovers, the Quakers outplayed the Leopards, racking up 423 yards of offense to Lafayette’s 236. At times, the Quakers offense even looked explosive. Their 344 yards through the air was more than they had in any game last season.
“Our offseason goal was to be a little bit more explosive throwing the ball,” Bagnoli said. “I think we had a chance to do that, but we just shot ourselves in the foot.”
Bagnoli was pleased with how his defense played, even though “they were put in some bad situations.”
The Red and Blue held the Leopards to just 2.5 yards per carry and 134 yards passing.
Lafayette was playing without its starting quarterback Andrew Shoop, who was a last-minute scratch after violating team rules. As a result, sophomore Zach Zweizig made his first career start.
Unlike his Penn counterparts, Zweizig played relatively mistake-free football, throwing just two interceptions.
“[Zweizig] did a nice job of managing the game and he wasn’t asked to win the game,” Bagnoli said.
On Penn’s situation under center, it is unclear whether Holland or Ragone will start next week.
“We’re probably going to go forward with the way we’ve been going at quarterback,” Bagnoli said, hinting that both Holland and Ragone could see playing time next week against Villanova.
Regardless of who is at quarterback, the Quakers are going to need fewer turnovers against Villanova if they want to beat the Wildcats for the first time since 1911.