The Quakers came so close to upsetting William & Mary — a CAA team that Penn really had no business beating in the first place — in a game that unexpectedly kept Penn fans on the edge of their seats.
The game felt a lot like the season opener against Lafayette, in which the Quakers fell behind — far behind — early on and then fought back to come within a touchdown for the win (or in the Lafayette game, the tie to force overtime).
This team knows how to fight until the very end of a game and how to stay in it until the last whistle, and that counts for a lot even if the early mistakes prove to be too much to overcome.
What this team needs now, however, is to start a game strong, finish a game strong and keep up the momentum in between.
Penn stomped on Dartmouth in the first half of its Ivy opener, going up 20-0 at half. But the Big Green came back and scored 21 points in the second half while the Quakers only scored eight. The defense held on for the win, but complacency — offensively or defensively — is not an option in football. Against Dartmouth, the Quakers needed a dose of the grit of the Lafayette and William & Mary games, the drive that keeps a team in the game until the end.
Penn also committed some costly turnovers against the Tribe, most of which William & Mary capitalized on immediately. A fumble on the 11-yard line is inexcusable, and the Quakers can’t afford to give up points like that, especially against scholarship teams.
The Red and Blue were not completely out of their depth against William & Mary. They took advantage of some of the mistakes the Tribe made and had some big plays of their own when they needed them most. William & Mary was solid, certainly, and a CAA team — no matter what its record indicates — can never be taken lightly. But Penn had plenty of opportunities to overcome its opponent.
William & Mary gained exactly zero net yards on its opening drive. The Penn defense clamped down and stymied Tribe quarterback Brent Caprio, leaving him no options on the ground nor through the air. On their second drive, however, the Tribe went on an 83-yard, three-minute march down the field that saw running back Keith McBride gain all but 31 of those yards. The Red and Blue defense, the same defense that was running back-proof just five minutes before, was suddenly absent.
Consistency, both offensively and defensively, will be key if the Quakers want to contend in the Ivy race. Penn played a great second half against William & Mary. There were big plays and patient plays, passes and runs, and there was a spark and an urgency that was not there in the first half.
The Red and Blue answered nearly every scoring drive by the Tribe in the second half and came within six points of taking home a win. Quarterbacks Billy Ragone and Andrew Holland both made smart passes for big gains and passed the ball off when they could, giving running back Jeff Jack a team-high 77 rushing yards.
To put that in perspective, the previous team-high was Lyle Marsh’s 51-yard game against Dartmouth.
If the Quakers can put together their first half against Dartmouth and their second half against William & Mary, this will be a team that can make some noise in the league.
But as coach Al Bagnoli said in the postgame press conference, “There are no moral victories in football.”
ANNA STRONG is a senior English major from Philadelphia and is former sports editor of The Summer Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at email@example.com.