With the ball on their own 12-yard line and 1:30 left on the clock, the Quakers had a chance to completely erase a sluggish start and a 17-point halftime deficit if they could mount an 88-yard touchdown drive.
Billy Ragone marched the Penn football team to the William & Mary 24 with under 30 seconds to go. After an incompletion, a sack and another incompletion, the Quakers stared down a 4th-and-15 at the Tribe’s 29 with one final chance to win the ball game.
But Ragone’s heave to the end zone was batted down, and William & Mary handed Penn a 34-28 loss Saturday at Franklin Field in the final non-Ivy game of the year.
The Quakers (1-3, 1-0 Ivy) started off promisingly, matching the Tribe at a touchdown apiece in the first quarter. But a breakdown in the second quarter led to two lost fumbles and 17 straight points for William & Mary (2-4), which took a 24-7 lead into the half.
“Turnovers in a game like this against these kinds of athletes hurts, so it’s something we have to address,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “When you lose a turnover battle, you’re really fighting uphill, and we lost the turnover battle.”
The Quakers worked their way back in the third with a one-yard, Ragone-to-Ryan Mitchell connection on their opening drive. But the Tribe quickly came back down the field and scored on a five-yard pass to wideout Sean Ballard.
Penn scored another touchdown on a five-yard run by Ragone, but the Tribe answered again with a field goal that upped their lead to 34-21 entering the fourth.
“Fortunately for us, our kids came out determined and scored,” Bagnoli said. “Even when we gave up a touchdown, [we] came back and scored again and just kept fighting, and that’s all you can ask for the kids to do.”
Though Bagnoli said there are no moral victories in football, he did take a positive out of the Quakers’ second-half play and the 28 overall points scored against a team that held the ACC juggernaut Maryland Terrapins to seven.
“I thought offensively we kind of struggled in the first half to kind of get some momentum going,” Ragone said. “We had a good mix of run and pass, and I think our offensive line did a great job all game, both running and pass blocking.”
There was a real change in the momentum during the second half. The Quakers played like they were a different team than the one that showed up in the second quarter.
A late touchdown with 3:23 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 15-yard pass from Ragone to Conner Scott cut the Red and Blue’s deficit to a single possession.
And it came down to the final seconds — but the eight-play, 59-yard drive wasn’t enough and Penn took a six-point loss.
Another blow for the Quakers came when news that wide receiver Joe Holder, who had two catches for 30 yards, suffered a broken fibula in the fourth quarter and could miss the remainder of the season.
Saturday’s defeat marks the first time under Bagnoli that the Red and Blue have fallen in three straight non-conference matchups.
Bagnoli was proud of his men for coming out and working hard.
“A lot of it is who you’re playing,” Bagnoli said. “You can overcome some things, but when you’re playing a [Colonial Athletic Association] school that’s pretty talented, it’s hard to pull yourself out. It’s a tough game, it’s a tough match up.”
The second quarter proved critical in determining the game, as well as four overall fumbles, two of which were lost and led to Tribe touchdown drives.
“Again, you can’t make any mistakes against these kind of schools, and that’s where the problem is,” Bagnoli said. “You almost have to play perfect.”
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