Considering Penn’s fall break leading to a paltry home crowd, a return to non-conference play after an emotional league win and the fact that the Red and Blue shared no history with their opponent, there were plenty of reasons for Penn football to sleep on this weekend’s showdown against Central Connecticut State.
But inside the Quakers’ locker room, there was only one focus: just win.
Behind three total touchdowns from quarterback Alek Torgersen and a breakout performance from defensive lineman Louis Vecchio, the Red and Blue did just that, taking control early and holding on for a 28-16 win.
“Going in and then out of league play is not the easiest thing because you’ve got all the excitement coming out of Dartmouth, but the goal was just to maintain focus,” Torgersen said. “We’re not looking at anything besides ourselves, so we were just trying to do our job the best we could.”
Penn wasted no time demonstrating that there would be no hangover from last weekend, as Torgersen marched the Quakers’ no-huddle attack down the field before punching the ball in himself to give the Red and Blue (2-2, 1-0 Ivy) a 7-0 lead right out of the gate.
Immediately afterwards, Tyrone Quarterman took a CCSU (1-4, 0-1 NEC) fourth-down fumble all the way to the 33-yard line, and Torgersen found Nicholas Bokun in the end zone for the junior’s first career catch, making a rout seem inevitable.
“Nick’s worked really hard; obviously it’s tough to replace Ryan Kelly and Ryan O’Malley who were here for years,” coach Ray Priore said. “He’s just gotta be himself; his attributes are a little different than what those guys can do, but being able to put him into the pass game can be crucial down the stretch for us.”
CCSU wouldn’t lay down flat, as the Blue Devils clawed back into the game behind a 62-yard touchdown from Jacob Dolegaga to K.J. Smith and an Ed Groth field goal.
But with the Blue Devils having cut the lead to four points, Penn kept its offense on the field for two straight fourth downs and converted both of them, with the latter resulting in a beautiful deep ball from Torgersen to Christian Pearson for a 29-yard score.
The story was the same for Penn in the third quarter, as yet another fourth down conversion saw Tre Solomon run for a four-yard touchdown to stretch the Quakers’ lead to a game-high 18 points.
Overall, Penn converted all four of its fourth-down attempts while the Blue Devils went 0-for-4, allowing the Quakers to maintain their lead even as Dolegala racked up an impressive 341 yards in the air.
“I have all the faith in the world in our offense,” Priore said. “We’re only going to go for it if it’s a situation where we have the opportunity to convert, and I have all the faith in those guys.”
Penn’s offense stalled as the Quakers looked to kill some clock, but it had given an aggressive Penn defense all the cushion it would need thanks to Vecchio’s breakthrough.
The junior spearheaded a Penn defensive front that allowed a miniscule 22 yards on the ground, securing 2.5 tackles for loss in addition to his first career sack. Having missed the majority of 2015 due to an ACL tear, Vecchio emphatically let the nation know that he’s back and ready to wreak havoc in the trenches all season.
“You know when the injury happens, you don’t really know what your future looks like. ... Everyone talks about how crucial your ACL is and how that injury changes your life,” Vecchio said. “It just gave me a different outlook on the game. I go onto the field each time and I’m just so appreciative that I get another chance after putting in all the work in rehab.”
Once Tayler Hendrickson fell on a fourth-down CCSU fumble with 7:30 to go, the Red and Blue were able to cruise to victory.
“They fought hard, took advantage of some early turnovers on our behalf ... but I was really pleased with our defense coming to play and not allowing touchdowns,” Priore said. “It’s something to build on, but now we’re fully into league play and obviously things are for real, so we have to put our best foot forward and get to work.”
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