NEW HAVEN, Conn. — In a game marred by squandered opportunities and defensive struggles, Yale handed Penn football its first Ivy League loss of the season, a 27-13 decision at the Yale Bowl.
The Quakers (2-4, 2-1 Ivy) started off strong on defense, forcing the Bulldogs (2-4, 1-2) to open with three straight punts.
On Yale’s fourth drive, with the Elis pushing deep into Penn territory, Dan Wilk recovered a fumble by Mordecai Cargill, and on the ensuing drive, Penn took a 7-0 lead when Andrew Holland found Lyle Marsh for a three-yard score.
Early on, the turning point appeared to come on a big hit by Penn’s Daniel Ritt that knocked Yale’s starting quarterback Eric Williams out of the game. Derek Russell, listed as wide receiver on the Bulldogs’ depth chart, took over for Williams and proceeded to carve up Penn’s defense. He completed 13-of-20 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown while running for 61 yards and an additional score.
“I think they got really good production — they’re a running team anyway so they want to run the ball with the tailbacks and quarterbacks,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “[Russell] did a nice job, it’s difficult to come in in a scenario where you have to take over someone else’s spot.”
After cutting Penn’s lead to 7-3 on a 43-yard field goal by Philippe Panico, the Bulldogs soon got the ball back with great field position and 1:33 remaining before halftime following a Quakers three-and-out.
Yale quarterback Logan Scott then took over under center for his only full drive of the game, which culminated in a four-yard touchdown pass to Henry Furman with 18 ticks left. The Bulldogs took a 10-7 lead into the locker room, and the Quakers would never come back.
In the second half, the Red and Blue had no answer for Yale’s rushing attack, which amassed 203 yards on 45 attempts — including 96 by tailback Tyler Varga.
“We have guys making contact in the backfield — myself, I missed a bunch of tackles today — we’re just not bringing them down on the first contact,” senior defensive tackle Brandon Copeland said. “We need to wrap up and then swarm to the ball.”
On top of the team’s defensive struggles, Penn’s offense kept missing out on scoring chances. Sophomore placekicker Connor Loftus missed an easy 20-yard field goal in the first half, and on the subsequent drive Bagnoli decided to punt the ball at the Yale 31.
The Quakers’ efforts were also negated by eight penalties for 86 yards, including a 15-yard personal foul for roughing the kicker that transformed what could have been a three-and-out into a field-goal drive for Yale.
In the third quarter, Elis linebacker Brian Leffler intercepted a bad throw by Penn quarterback Billy Ragone and returned it 47 yards before being taken down by Jeff Jack at the Penn 4-yard line. Russell quickly converted the turnover into points with a touchdown pass to tight end Elijah Thomas, who was wide-open on the play.
Three field goals later — two by Penn, one by the Elis — Russell once again converted a touchdown from inside the five, this time on the run. The 27-13 score put the game out of reach for the Quakers and stood until the end.
“I don’t think they got radically away from what they were going to do … They pretty much ran the same offense,” Bagnoli said of Yale’s quarterback changes. “I don’t think anything radically changed in what we had to do. They just did a good job of executing, especially considering it’s the backup [quarterback] who played.”
For Penn’s coach, there’s a reason why his team failed to win its third Ivy game in a row.
“I knew it was going to be a full 60-minute game, and unfortunately that’s what happened,” he said. “We just did a really poor job at converting opportunities.”