In the end, Penn football's epic comeback happened too quickly.
Despite trailing by 25 against No. 13 Fordham right before halftime on Saturday, the Quakers staged a furious second-half rally, one that was capped off with a Ryan Kelly touchdown catch with 1:46 remaining and a two-point conversion to tie the game. However, the Rams managed to race down the field and kick a game-winning field goal, stymieing the Red and Blue's upset bid, 48-45.
From the onset, Penn (1-3) seemed to pick up right where it left off against Dartmouth last weekend, but for all the wrong reasons. The Quakers turned the ball over on their first two possessions, leading to a 30-yard touchdown pass from Fordham junior quarterback Kevin Anderson to make it 7-0.
After a Penn three-and-out, the Rams (5-1) wasted no time doubling their lead, going 75 yards on four plays before sophomore Chase Edmonds punched in an eight-yard rush for his first of four touchdowns. Leading 14-3 after a 39-yard field goal from Red and Blue sophomore Jimmy Gammill, Fordham then went 66 yards on four plays, a drive capped off by Edmonds' 51-yard touchdown run.
On the first play of Penn's next series, senior quarterback Andrew Lisa — filling in for starter Alek Torgersen, who sustained a head injury against the Big Green last weekend — threw a ball that was tipped and picked off by Niko Thorpe at the Quakers' 14. Less than two minutes later, the Rams had made it 28-3.
"You're not going to beat anybody if you spot them that many points early. That's the lesson we learned," coach Ray Priore said. "If you spot a good team like that that many points early, you're going to need a heroic effort to come back."
Fortunately for the Red and Blue, less than three weeks after shocking then-No. 4 Villanova, they had a heroic effort up their collective sleeves.
On the verge of replicating the result of last year's 60-22 loss to Fordham, Penn benefited from two long runs by junior Brian Schoenauer to approach the Rams' red zone. Then, Lisa found Justin Watson for a 21-yard touchdown, the fourth consecutive game to start the season in which the sophomore wideout has scored.
After Edmonds caught a 21-yard touchdown pass of his own seven plays later, the pressure was back on the Red and Blue. But another long drive, highlighted by a 53-yard bomb to Watson, helped set up Schoenauer's first of three touchdowns and made it 35-17 at halftime.
Although Fordham eviscerated the Quakers' defense in the opening half, Penn stood tall throughout the third quarter. Though the Rams ran 19 plays on its first two drives in the period, the defense — led by senior linebacker Tyler Drake, who finished with four sacks — forced two punts.
"Once we got into halftime, we really buckled down, and we got our minds right," Drake noted. "And once we started making some plays, we knew we would be able to exploit them with some pressures, and it helped that we were able to get stops, get off the field and get our offense the ball."
With the ball in the offense's hands, Penn began laying the groundwork for its miraculous comeback. Eight minutes after Schoenauer's three-yard score made it 35-24, Lisa found tight end Ryan O'Malley for a nine-yard touchdown before the Quakers failed to notch the two-point conversion.
Now only leading 35-30, Anderson wasted no time bringing Fordham down the field. Aided by two personal fouls against Penn's defense, the Rams extended their lead to 42-30 on Edmonds' two-yard touchdown run with 13:03 to play.
The game seemed all but lost for the Quakers after Lisa — who finished the game 24-for-37 with 263 yards, three touchdowns and two picks — fumbled on Penn's next drive deep in its own territory. But the Red and Blue forced a turnover on downs, keeping the matchup within reach.
It took the Quakers 11 plays to go 77 yards and cut the deficit to five on Schoenauer's third score of the game. But Fordham's Jihaad Pretlow returned the subsequent kickoff to Penn's 26-yard line, setting up the Rams for a field goal that made it 45-37.
With 3:44 remaining, Lisa and company went to work. Thanks to a 44-yard kickoff return and a crucial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Fordham, the Red and Blue wound up with second and 10 at the Rams' 13 before Lisa found Kelly for the touchdown. Moments later, Lisa's pass to Watson on a slant route tied the game at 45.
"I want to fight when we get into games," Priore said. "I want to go down to the wire. If, at that point in time, we've given everything we have, and they're the better team, then so be it."
After Aron Morgan's kickoff rolled out of bounds, Fordham had 106 seconds to get in field-goal range. It wouldn't need that long.
Four of the Rams' first five plays on the drive went for nine yards or more, easily bringing the squad into Penn territory. With 11 seconds left, Makay Reed lined up for a 31-yard field goal that sailed through the uprights. Ball game.
The Quakers will return to action next Saturday when they take on Columbia and former Penn coach Al Bagnoli in New York.
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