With just under 10 minutes left to play Saturday at Franklin Field, the Penn football team found itself facing a decisive moment.
Fordham, which trailed by as much as 18 points in the third quarter, had just executed a perfect scoring drive, ending in a touchdown to cut the Quakers’ lead down to eight. To many, it looked like Penn was on its way to another second-half collapse — a tendency that has plagued the team thus far this season.
After a kickoff return to the 27-yard line, Penn had its chance to respond. What came next was a drive that Quakers fans have grown accustomed to seeing the past two years, but which this year has been all too rare.
Off of the legs of junior running back Jeff Jack, interspersed with a couple of key throws from junior quarterback Billy Ragone, Penn orchestrated a 13-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in a six-yard touchdown run by junior Greg Schuster. With 3:31 to play, the Red and Blue were back ahead by two scores. A defensive stop and one offensive first down later, the final score read in Penn’s favor, 35-20.
Though it required no late-game heroics, Saturday’s game showed that Penn (2-2, 1-0 Ivy) can still play the type of game synonymous with coach Al Bagnoli’s program over the past few years.
Penn’s offense clicked from the beginning against the Rams (1-4), amassing a total of 440 offensive yards and going 5-for-5 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The offense was fairly balanced throughout the night, accumulating 248 passing yards, as well as 192 rushing yards. Junior running back Lyle Marsh racked up 72 yards and three touchdowns standing in for junior Brandon Colavita, who rested this week before Ivy play begins.
Marsh went down with an ankle injury during the fourth quarter, however, and had X-rays taken after the game.
“Our receivers are getting more and more confident,” Ragone said. “We were able to make some big plays.”
“I felt we were probably as efficient and as balanced as we’ve been in a while, which was good to see,” Bagnoli said. “I think we needed it.”
Penn’s defense was also solid — in the first half, the front seven held Fordham to 35 rushing yards. The one dark spot came on a 55-yard touchdown bomb from Fordham quarterback Ryan Higgins to running back Carlton Koonce.
For much of the game, Fordham utilized the no-huddle offense, which forced Penn to adapt.
“The style that they play is pretty much pedal to the metal, so it forces you into doing a lot of things,” Bagnoli said. “It puts some strain on you defensively, and it puts pressure on your offensive team to hold the ball and give your defense a rest.”
The Quakers’ second-half malaise, which plagued them in their first three games of the season, was nowhere to be found Saturday night. The third quarter saw Penn add two more touchdowns, including one after senior safety Jason Schmucker intercepted Higgins and returned it 48 yards to the Fordham seven-yard line.
After the Rams came charging back in the fourth quarter, Penn’s offense showed how potent it can be when it successfully controls the ball using its powerful running attack with Ragone’s arm mixed in.
With non-conference play now over, the Quakers will look to take the experience from this week into next week’s matchup against Columbia as they begin their slate of Ivy play.
“We’ve just got to build off this as we head into the Ivy schedule and get ready to go against Columbia,” Ragone said.
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