VILLANOVA, Pa. — Do you believe in miracles?
Penn football defeated No. 4 Villanova, 24-13, on Thursday night, the program’s first victory over its crosstown rivals since 1911. The win not only marked the first of coach Ray Priore’s tenure; it was also the Quakers’ first-ever road win over a top-five opponent.
“The school paper said we needed a Hail Mary,” Priore said. “Well, God was on our side today.”
Penn (1-1) set the tone in the first half due in large part to the dominant play of wide receiver Justin Watson. The sophomore tallied five catches for 87 yards and both of the Red and Blue’s two touchdowns before leaving at halftime with a shoulder injury.
The man throwing him the ball, junior Alek Torgersen, logged 14 completions for 171 yards on the night. Though it wasn’t Torgersen’s most statistically impressive game, his ability to manage the offense allowed the Quakers to dominate the time of possession — they held the ball for 39:48 of the game’s 60 minutes.
“It’s all about the ball. Whoever has the ball wins,” Priore said. “We said, ‘We’ll control the ball early, and we’ll see what happens.’”
Sophomore Tre Solomon and junior Brian Schoenauer were a dynamic duo out of the backfield, fueling Penn’s offense throughout the game. Solomon got the bulk of his 51 yards in the first half — like Watson, he missed the second half — while Schoenauer chipped in the majority of his 61 after intermission.
“Obviously Justin and Tre are a big part of our offense,” Torgersen said. “Without them in the second half, we had some guys step in.”
Villanova, who had won 14 consecutive matchups with the Red and Blue since the two teams resumed their series in 1980, was playing without its best player, senior quarterback John Robertson. The 2014 Walter Payton Award winner was ruled out indefinitely after suffering a knee injury last week against Delaware. Freshman Zach Bednarczyk — making his first career start in Robertson’s stead — contributed 185 passing yards, of which only 23 came in the first half.
Penn excelled on the defensive side of the ball, holding the Wildcats scoreless through the game’s first two quarters before allowing only two touchdowns — one of which came in garbage time — after the break. Senior captain Tyler Drake led the squad with two forced fumbles and a sack, but the unit’s highlight was a 90-yard scoop-and-score by junior linebacker Donald Panciello to seal the game late in the fourth quarter.
The Quakers got the scoring started on their first possession of the game, receiving the opening kickoff and driving 75 yards for the touchdown. Watson capped the drive with a pretty diving catch in the endzone, getting his feet down as he fell out of bounds.
The two teams exchanged possession for a handful of drives before Torgersen once again found Watson over the middle for a completion. The play looked to be only for a short gain, but Watson trucked several Villanova defenders — and threw a nasty stiff arm — en route to a 36-yard touchdown to put the Quakers up 14-0.
Shortly after halftime, the Quakers made it 17-0 on a Jimmy Gammill field goal. However, the Wildcats responded quickly with a one-yard score by Gary Underwood to make it a 17-7 game and give Villanova some life.
After a pooch punt by Penn, the Wildcats got the ball back midway through the fourth quarter and looked poised to make it a one-score game. However, Javon White fumbled on the Penn 10-yard line with seven minutes remaining, and Panciello scooped up the loose ball and hustled untouched to the endzone, giving the Quakers a 24-7 edge.
“I saw a whole bunch of green in front of me and a whole lot of white to my left. I tried not to look back,” Panciello said. “I saw the end zone, and I knew my guys were blocking for me.”
Villanova finished off the scoring with a Bednarczyk-to-Underwood touchdown with less than two minutes remaining, but by then it was all but official: Penn had executed the upset of the century.
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