Give the Quakers a deficit, and then they’ll get going.
Throughout the season, the Red and Blue have demonstrated the ability to mount comebacks late in games, and Saturday’s win fits that mold.
Of their six first-half possessions, the Quakers went three-and-out on four of them. They went into the locker room down three. So what do they do?
On the opening drive of the second half, Billy Ragone marched the Quakers down the field for a touchdown. This ability to respond was just a sign of things to come.
After the offense stalled again for much of the third and the early part of the fourth quarter, the Quakers’ defense stumbled, allowing the Lions to climb to a 20-10 advantage with 10 minutes remaining.
We know the rest — we’ve seen it before.
This was one of the good days for the sleep late, score late Quakers, whose comebacks have fallen short more often than not this year.
However, within the criticisms that could be aimed at the team, coach Al Bagnoli may have came to a realization.
Following the game, he admitted he was worried about how his team would perform after a poor week of practice.
“I’m kind of disappointed in myself,” Bagnoli said. “I really should have done it in the first half. I kind of saw we needed a spark. It was very, very quiet on the sidelines and I should have, in hindsight, thought of it a little bit earlier.”
Of course, Bagnoli was talking about the hurry-up offense the Quakers utilized for their two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. While for much of the game, the offense seemed incapable of moving the ball, once Ragone started with the hurry-up, the Red and Blue seemed fluid and, most importantly, confident.
As soon as Ragone found Lyle Marsh in the corner of the end zone with 50 seconds remaining, the comeback was complete.
On a day when Conner Scott was double-teamed on almost every possession, Marsh and Ryan Mitchell picked up the slack. Each pulled in seven receptions, and they combined for 154 yards.
Mitchell’s production was steady, but six of Marsh’s catches came in the fourth, when Ragone often found him out of the slot.
For an offense looking for another playmaker following the injury to Joe Holder, Marsh is an ideal candidate. His explosiveness was exemplified on the last drive when he took a short pass from Ragone on third-and-9 and turned it into a 23-yard dash from the 41-yard line to the red zone.
“He’s been a big-play guy for us all year,” Ragone said of Marsh. “And we’ve got to continue to throw it to him.”
While Bagnoli has been faithful in giving Jeff Jack the bulk of the carries while Brandon Colavita is out, getting Marsh into the passing attack more frequently seems like a fair trade-off. And, as Saturday showed, moving it through the air is most effective when the Quakers up the tempo.
Following the contest, Columbia coach Pete Mangurian made it sound as if Bagnoli never changes.
“I’ve been through this before with Al, I’ve seen the kinds of things they do,” Mangurian said. “Just move it ahead 10 or 12 years and it’s the same. They executed down the stretch and we didn’t.”
While Penn did make the big plays at the end of the game, Mangurian oversimplified how it happened, claiming, “There’s no magic call, no magic adjustment.”
No one claims the hurry-up to be magic, but it saved the Quakers on Saturday.
In the future, they’d be wise to turn to it earlier.
JOHN PHILLIPS is a junior English major from Philadelphia. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.