Penn football holds on against Lafayette, 27-21
Quakers' fast start proves to be enough of a cushion in season opener
September 21, 2013, 9:02 pm·
The last thing Penn football needed was deja vu.
Last season, the Quakers came out hurting in their season opener at Lafayette, suffering four interceptions and falling behind, 21-0, in just the first quarter alone.
Not this year.
Penn raced out to a 10-0 start of its own in the first quarter en route to a 27-21 season-opening victory over Lafayette Saturday night at Franklin Field. The win marked just the second win for the Quakers (1-0) against the Leopards (0-3) since 2007.
“Last year [at Lafayette] was not something we planned on happening. [Turnovers] really stuck to us in that game, kept recurring, kept recurring,” said junior running back Spencer Kulcsar, who finished with 66 yards receiving on five catches out of the backfield. “We definitely had it in our minds to protect the football first and foremost.”
“They came out strong running the ball,” Lafayette coach Frank Tavani said. “They were obviously excited to get in their first game.”
Indeed, it took the Quakers just 5:45 into the game to post their first touchdown of 2013, a five-yard catch by senior wide receiver Ty Taylor which capped an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive.
And that was just the beginning.
After Lafayette junior quarterback Zach Zweizig connected with senior wide receiver Mark Ross in the end zone from 29 yards out on third down, the Quakers responded with a 10-play, 60-yard drive to give Penn a 13-7 edge which it took into halftime. Before being pulled with a concussion, Zweizig was sacked five times.
“The [defensive] line had great penetration, a great motor on the day,” said Penn senior defensive back Evan Jackson, who posted an interception and five tackles.
In the first half, Penn doubled up Lafayette in first downs, 12-6, and gained 203 yards of total offense to the Leopards’ 49.
“The first half, we probably should have been up more than we were,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “So we squandered a lot of scoring opportunities to create a little more space.”
Still, the Quakers started another half off hot. Lafayette sophomore quarterback Andrew Dzurik replaced Zweizig to the start the second half, and his first pass was promptly picked off by Penn senior Tosan Eyetsemitan, setting Penn up at Lafayette’s 43-yard line. From there, the Quakers embarked on a seven-play touchdown drive in 2:39 that gave them their second double-digit lead of the night.
A rout seemed to be on when Penn notched an improbable touchdown just five minutes later. Senior Chris Bush snapped the ball over senior quarterback Billy Ragone’s head and Kulcsar picked it up, reversing direction and running to paydirt for a seven-yard touchdown to put Penn up, 27-7 with 6:11 remaining in the third quarter.
But Lafayette would not go away. The Leopards reeled off a nine-play, 46-yard drive four minutes into the final stanza to get back within 13, as an evening-long steady rain became a downpour.
The Leopards followed that drive up with a crisp seven-play, 86-yard drive in just 2:03 capped off by a punch-in touchdown from junior running back Ross Scheuerman. Suddenly, Penn’s lead was just 27-21 with 5:31 to go.
“I’m not sure if we’re totally game-ready to go 60 minutes. It’s our first game,” Penn coach Bagnoli said. “I noticed there was a big difference between our defensive line push in the first half and their ability to get off the ball and penetrate and scramble, than in the second half.”
But a last-ditch drive by the Leopards from their own 38-yard line with 3:01 to play went nowhere, making Penn’s season opener a close call instead of a comeback catastrophe.
“Obviously there’s concern with a little bit of momentum change,” Bagnoli said. “I don’t know if there was ever total panic, but there were some concerns, it was a close call.”