Entering this weekend’s contest against a Yale squad that had averaged a League-best 267 pass yards per game, the Quakers knew they would have to tighten up on defense if they hoped to escape the Yale Bowl with a fifth straight win.
“We consider Yale to have the best passing quarterback in the League,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
In Penn’s 27-13 win over a Columbia, the defense remained a lingering question against two-time Ivy Offensive Player of the Week Sean Brackett. The Lions managed 284 yards, including 240 in the air.
This weekend, however, the Quakers ‘D’ showed that it was up for the task. Penn demonstrated a knack for keeping Yale off the scoreboard when it really mattered, coming up with two key interceptions and holding the Bulldogs to 6-for-17 on third down conversions.
And though Penn allowed 331 net yards in the air, 141 of them came in the fourth quarter with the Quakers firmly in command, running out the clock.
“I don’t get overly concerned with yardage,” Bagnoli said. “The question is can you force them into some mistakes? At that point, you start giving up some yards just as you’re trying to get to the box.”
Right off the bat, the Bulldogs offense showed that it was going to make the Quakers work — and at first, it seemed that the Penn secondary might not be up for the challenge.
Yale quarterback Patrick Witt completed all 10 of his attempts in the first quarter for 105 yards, highlighted by several big plays. In the Bulldogs’ second series, he connected with Gio Christodoulou for 29 yards and Jordan Forney for 25 yards two plays later, leading to a Yale field goal.
But the clock struck midnight on the Bulldogs as soon as the first quarter came to a close.
After the Penn defense received some much-needed rest while the offense mounted an 87-yard touchdown drive that lasted nearly five minutes, the Red and Blue defense completely shutdown the Bulldogs for the next two quarters.
The line stepped up its pressure on Witt, forcing him out of the pocket on several occasions and giving him far less time to locate his receivers.
With a minute left in the half, Jason Schmucker delivered a bruising hit on Witt for a seven yard-loss that set the tone for the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, the secondary stepped up their coverage as Justyn Williams and David Twamley made their presence known all over the field.
Twamley recorded a career-high ten tackles — nine of which came unassisted — and broke up three passes.
Yet the biggest play for the defense didn’t come until the fourth quarter. After Yale moved the ball 82 yards down the field and scored its first touchdown of the game to bring the score to 20-10, they appeared to be gathering momentum.
A missed field goal from 45 yards out on the ensuing Penn possession gave the Bolldogs the ball on their 28-yard line with the chance to make it a one possession game. On the first play of Yale’s next possession, Witt stepped back to pass with an open receiver in the flat.
That’s when Penn lineman Brandon Copeland stepped in.
The sophomore got a hand on Witt’s pass, batting it up in the air. He came down with it and returned it 7 yards to the Yale 11-yard line, setting the Quakers up for their final touchdown and effectively putting the game out of reach.
“I’m not sure how many kids can make that play,” Bagnoli said. “He’s just a terrific player with a huge upside and just a freaky good athlete for that position.”