As the clock ticked away Saturday at Franklin Field, the Quakers’ 15-year winning streak over Columbia appeared to be on its death bed.
Trailing by three with 2:26 remaining on the game clock, the Red and Blue started their final drive of the day on their own 38. The Penn offense had sputtered all day, and the Columbia fans could sense an impending Lions’ victory.
Recognizing that the running game had failed all day, Penn senior quarterback Billy Ragone used his arm to lead his team down the field. He went 5-for-7 for 53 yards and found senior running back Lyle Marsh in the end zone, giving the Quakers a 24-20 lead.
With 50 seconds remaining, the Lions quickly responded but came two yards short of a game-winning touchdown as the clock expired. The Quakers escaped with a 24-20 win.
“We’re a good two-minute team,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “If you look at us last year, we won a couple games right at the end and so our kids are comfortable in it, we practice in it a fair amount.”
The Red and Blue could not find an offensive rhythm in the first half, scoring just three points to Columbia’s six. Ragone was 2-for-6 for four yards before the break, and Penn had just 86 yards of offense.
“As sluggish as we started, we always have the confidence that we can move the ball down the field against anybody,” Ragone said.
“As much as we’d like to get the first half back, we took a step forward and came back in the second half and played some pretty good football.”
The Quakers started the second half strong, taking a 10-6 lead on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Ragone to junior receiver Conner Scott.
However, the Lions came back with a score of their own on quarterback Sean Brackett’s 15-yard pass to running back Marcorus Garrett.
Columbia extended its lead to 10 in the fourth quarter when Garrett easily ran 31 yards past the Penn defense for a touchdown.
“Columbia found some open spots, but we definitely need to improve our tackling,” senior defensive tackle and captain Brandon Copeland said. “Their running back was pretty elusive back there.”
Penn cut the Lions’ lead to three after Ragone converted a fourth-and-7 at the Columbia 35 and found tight end Mitchell King in the end zone two plays later.
On Columbia’s next possession, quarterback Sean Brackett was sacked by Feerooz Yacoobi, forcing the Lions to punt. The momentum was finally in Penn’s favor, but the Quakers went three-and-out on their next drive.
The Red and Blue defense stepped up and gave the offense the ball back on the Penn 38 with 2:26 to go, setting the Quakers up for the game-winning score.
While Penn escaped with the win to stay undefeated in the Ivy League, the Quakers yet again struggled to play a full 60 minutes, something they will have to improve on as the Ivy schedule gets more difficult.
“We should have been a lot readier to play than we were in the first half, and I’ll give Columbia credit for taking it to us,” Bagnoli said.
“Looking forward, we need to correct it. But I’m happy for our kids, and obviously we know we have to play better, we have to coach better, we’re going to have to practice better and we’re going to have to execute better.”