Penn football makes 4th-quarter comeback to defeat Yale
Late explosion vaults Quakers past feisty Bulldogs to push Ivy winning streak to 18 games
October 22, 2011, 3:33 pm · Updated October 24, 2011, 2:25 am·
Rachel Bleustein | DP
Sometimes a marathon can be best described in moments.
That’s how it was Saturday afternoon when Penn outlasted Yale in a 37-25 heavyweight slugfest at Franklin Field.
Quakers coach Al Bagnoli aptly described how the similarity of attack between the two teams led to this type of game.
“We have identical problems,” said Bagnoli, who won his 100th conference game with the victory. “So it was just gonna be turnovers, penalties, big plays, possessions.”
The important moments came at varied stages throughout the contest, but the most pivotal was no doubt two minutes into the fourth quarter, when the Quakers (4-2, 3-0 Ivy) decided to pooch kick after scoring a touchdown that cut Yale’s lead to 20-16.
The Quakers recovered the ball at Yale’s 39-yard line, and the game was effectively over. Penn went on a 21-5 run after that moment.
But in order to reach that spectacular play, the Red and Blue had to get through three underwhelming quarters beforehand.
The defense was able to contain Yale’s ace signal caller Patrick Witt throughout the first half, but the Quakers couldn’t take advantage of scoring opportunities. They missed a long field goal and turned the ball over on downs at the Yale one-yard line to head into the half down 7-3.
“We know that the defense is going to keep them in check,” said junior quarterback Billy Ragone, who finished 17-for-24 with 236 yards and an interception. “Early on in the game, we were moving the ball, we were doing what we wanted to do offensively, but we weren’t punching it in.”
Ragone was effective in the first half, but not nearly as much as he was after halftime. In the last two quarters, he threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers and ran for one himself.
The first of Ragone’s passing touchdowns was to senior Joe Holder for 22 yards, a perfectly executed fade to the back corner of the endzone and the first touchdown of Holder’s career.
That, plus a 16-yard strike to senior tight end Luke Nawrocki — his first of the season — helped Penn cut the deficit to four.
“I think some of those plays were perpetuated by calls, drives continued on by penalties,” Yale coach Tom Williams said. “Certainly the momentum swung, the pendulum swung back the other way.”
If the momentum was beginning to swing, it fell flatly in the Red and Blue’s favor after the recovered onside kick.
After that, the Quakers became at once both an offensive juggernaut and a defensive stalwart.
Witt and the Bulldogs (3-3, 2-1) were making gains on their drives, but not scoring. And ultimately, that’s all that matters.
“We’re kind of at the bend-don’t-break right now,” senior linebacker Erik Rask said.
Penn’s defensive effectiveness was aided by Yale losing leading receiver Chris Smith and leading rusher Alex Thomas — who rushed for 204 yards on 30 attempts in the game — but it also had to do with getting pressure on Witt.
Meanwhile, Ragone and the Quakers offense caught fire, scoring three touchdowns on three-straight possessions after the pooch kick.
Despite the late game heroics, there’s no denying that poor play in the first half and most of the third quarter necessitated such a run.
Bagnoli said it best.
“It’s not a Picasso by any stretch.”