PRINCETON, N.J. — Following another fourth quarter comeback for the cardiac Quakers, the road to the Ivy League title will go through Franklin Field next weekend after Penn beat Princeton, 28-21, on Saturday afternoon at Princeton Stadium.
Billy Ragone didn’t have his best day statistically, but he came through when it counted, leading a 10-play, 58-yard touchdown march with the clock winding down in the fourth quarter. The drive ultimately culminated in a three-yard touchdown run by Ragone to give Penn a 28-21 lead.
“All of their corners were looking for the pass, so I was pretty much able to walk it into the end zone,” Ragone said.
Yet, with almost three minutes remaining, Penn needed its defense to hold Princeton’s up-tempo offense, and it did. The defense bent but didn’t break on the final drive.
While Princeton marched to Penn’s 6-yard line, the defense finished strong. Captain Brandon Copeland recovered a fumble on third-and-goal that sealed the victory for the Red and Blue in a game full of momentum swings.
The biggest play of the contest happened midway through the fourth, with Princeton up by a touchdown. The Tigers had the ball on Penn’s 23-yard line when Dave Twamley came up with an interception in the end zone.
“We were playing Cover 2, so we had a guy over top and a guy underneath on the play,” coach Al Bagnoli recounted. “I would’ve liked to see him have a little more awareness to just kneel it down in the end zone next time, but at least he didn’t end up getting tackled on the three.”
The pick was just one of many big plays the defense made.
Princeton came in with a game plan set to attack Penn through the air, attempting to tire out the Penn defense with its no-huddle offense, but the Quakers took advantage.
While Princeton sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen completed 28 passes with two touchdowns, his three interceptions kept Penn in the game.
“We won the turnover margin today,” Bagnoli said. “And that was the key.”
Though the Red and Blue went to the locker room up 14-13, Princeton came out strong in the second half, conducting a 12-play, 73-yard drive capped by a 21-yard touchdown pass to Roman Wilson that gave the Tigers a lead they held for much of the second half.
Early in the fourth, Penn lineman C.J. Mooney got his hands on a Michelsen pass attempt that he took to the house, tying the game at 21 with 7:31 remaining on a 15-yard pick six.
“That play really gave us the jolt we needed as a team,” Ragone said.
On offense, Penn was at its best when moving the ball on the ground.
The Quakers ran for 211 yards, with big days from both Jeff Jack and Lyle Marsh.
Marsh rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries, while Jack added 50 yards and a touchdown. Conner Scott was only targeted once, and he ended the game without a catch.
Ultimately, Penn relied on the staples of the Bagnoli era: a strong run attack and a defense that makes big plays.
Penn will need more of the same next week against Harvard, who put up 69 points against Columbia Saturday.