A season ago, Lyle Marsh looked like he had finally returned to full form.
In the last non-league game sandwiched between Ivy contests, Marsh broke out for 72 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries against Fordham at Franklin Field.
But then, in the fourth quarter, Marsh went down with a broken ankle — and he missed the majority of a second straight year with a season-ending injury.
Now, as the Quakers take on William & Mary on Saturday at Franklin Field, they find themselves in an eerily similar position to a year ago: sitting at 1-2 and coming off a close win at Dartmouth.
And going in, Marsh, who is healthy and will play, according to coach Al Bagnoli, has just nine carries this season. A year ago at this juncture, he had eight.
But the comparability of the situation hasn’t crossed Marsh’s mind.
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about it that much,” Marsh said. “I’m just gonna play however much [the coaches] want me to.”
After getting just two carries last weekend, it is likely that Marsh could see a jump in playing time against the Tribe (1-4), especially with fellow tailback Brandon Colavita out with a sprained foot.
“We didn’t use him a lot against Dartmouth because he was coming off an injury,” Bagnoli said. “He’s fine, so he’ll play an extensive amount. Jeff Jack will play an extensive amount [and] Spencer Kulcsar will play.
“So we’ll have the three-headed attack but it’ll be three different guys.”
Being a non-Ivy contest, a top priority for Penn is coming out of the game unscathed. But Bagnoli stressed getting a ‘W’ is still the team’s most important goal.
“It’s important you continue to build momentum and win,” Bagnoli said. “We’re gonna do everything we can to try to win the game.”
Winning against a Colonial Athletic Association school won’t be easy though, as Bagnoli pointed out. In Penn’s other matchup with a CAA school, they fell, 24-8, to Villanova.
“It’s like playing two teams out of the SEC,” Bagnoli said. “We’re gonna have our hands full.”
Marsh agreed and hopes that a victory would open some eyes around the Ancient Eight.
“If we were able to get a win it would definitely make a big statement to the rest of the league,” Marsh said.
Having such a difficult non-conference schedule could be an advantage for Penn once the Ivy stretch comes.
“We’re on a high-wire act. If you can get out and not sustain any serious injuries, then there’s some benefit in playing them,” Bagnoli said. “When you sandwich two CAA schools around Ivy League games, you’ve gotta be a little bit careful.”
Call it cautiously competitive. But expect the Quakers to go hard for the win on Saturday.