Penn football's fight for four
With two fifth-year senior quarterbacks, the Quakers are prepared to go for a fourth outright Ivy title in five years
September 19, 2013, 12:42 pm · Updated September 19, 2013, 10:25 pm·
Patrick Hulce | DP
Four outright Ivy League championships in five years — it’s never been done.
But Penn has a chance to do it in 2013.
Coach Al Bagnoli gave one of the biggest reasons the Quakers are standing on the edge of history this season at Media Day last month:
“Billy likes to do everything.”
And fifth-year senior quarterback Billy Ragone has done everything during his Penn career. He’s the only player in Quakers history with 1,000 career rushing yards and 2,000 career passing yards. He’s engineered eight career fourth quarter/overtime comebacks.
And he’s one of three Quakers – fellow fifth-year seniors Brandon Colavita and Sam Chwarzynski are the other two – going after their fourth Ivy title ring.
“It’s something that hasn’t been done a lot in this league,” Ragone said. “Having that being something that’s attainable is a motivator. You always want to leave your legacy behind everywhere you go, and this is an opportunity to kind of leave your legacy behind in this league of the success we’ve had as a team since I’ve been here.”
“It’s the last hurrah,” Chwarzynski said. “So if we don’t win it all, it’s kind of a bust.”
And if they don’t win at all, chances are it may be because Ragone took too much of a beating again. As a running quarterback, Ragone takes on a lot of bumps and bruises every series.
Indeed, the dislocated ankle and fractured fibula which he suffered in last season’s Ivy title share-clinching victory over Harvard still loom large over Penn’s fight for four. Ragone only got his final clearance to play on Aug. 6, just as the Ivy League Football Preseason Poll made it clear that that fourth ring is to be expected.
“I think the first hit is going to be a relief, making sure everything’s in working order and moving on from there,” Ragone said. “Just like anything, you’ve got the butterflies the first play, and then everything takes care of itself.”
But no one will be taking care of Ragone this season more than the other fifth-year senior quarterback – Ryan Becker.
Becker knows what it’s like to recover from a major injury. He tore his ACL last summer and had to wait until spring practice in early April to be cleared.
Becker also knows from experience what it’s like to complement Ragone behind center. Starting 15 combined games in 2010 and 2011, Becker completed 64 passes out of 113 attempts for 735 yards, also throwing for two touchdowns and four interceptions. In doing so, Becker consistently displayed a rocket arm which established him as the pocket-passing yang to Ragone’s ball-tucking yin.
“We’re a great complement for each other,” Becker said. “It’s a nice little change of pace that we have, we can both do [the] hurry up [offense], we can both slow it down, both run the run game. He’s more of a runner so it’s easier for him to make plays with his feet. And when I come in, we’re gonna try and air it out and make some plays on the ground with some running backs and checks, all those kinds of things.”
“We’ve both been here for so long, we both have experience, we both have significant playing time, and we work together on and off the field,” Ragone said. “We’re competing every day on the field, just pushing each other to get better, bouncing ideas off each other.”
Bagnoli has been criticized in the past for sticking with his two-quarterback system, and the boo birds flew in full force for much of last season. Observers perceived a lack of offensive rhythm in midseason that they attributed to the frequent switching off between Ragone and Andrew Holland over the course of games.
Then Harvard happened.
“When Billy goes down, you have Andrew Holland who’s already played in seven or eight games before that,” Becker said. “Now he finishes the game at Harvard, comes into Cornell and is Ivy League Player of the Week. When you’re able to play two guys, that builds experience. If they have confidence, the rest of the team has confidence in them.”
And certainly no one has more confidence in Ragone than offensive coordinator Jon McLaughlin.
“He’s somebody who has a great toughness, has a great pain threshold, has a great confidence and is a little bit fearless with that,” McLaughlin said. “I watch him in the spring, he’s running around, throwing balls, catching balls, doing stuff. Like, Billy, relax, you know?”
He likes to do everything.
And everyone knows the fight for that fourth and final Ivy ring begins and ends with him.
“It’s the last one,” he said. “So trying to make it special.”