Penn quarterback Matt Rader returned from injury to throw for 169 yards and a touchdown. Few would have questioned Penn quarterback Matt Rader if he watched his team battle Columbia from the sideline. A golf-ball sized wound in the senior's forearm served as a gruesome reminder of an injury he suffered last Saturday at Fordham -- one that caused him to miss all of last week's practice. With doctor's approval, however, Rader bandaged up the old cannon and took to the battlefield. His decision to play -- even with the rust from a week without practice -- proved a decisive factor in Penn's 20-0 win over the Lions Saturday at Franklin Field. "There was no hesitation once he got clearance from the doctors," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "We were really fortunate that the cut didn't get into the muscle, so we didn't have to worry about atrophy." Without the concern of injuring his muscles by throwing a football, Rader spent Saturday targeting passes over the shoulder of his favorite receiver, Doug O'Neill, and playing a little throw-and-catch with halfback Jim Finn. If anything was different on Saturday, the second-year transfer from Duke looked rejuvenated from the time away from practice. Not only did Rader complete 17-of-25 passes for 169 yards, but his ability to hit receivers downfield also caused the Lions defense to reduce its focus on Finn as a runner. The result -- a balanced offensive attack. Finn rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown against Division I-AA's best run defense, while the Penn offense threw the football for 211 yards; Rader had 169 of them, while Finn was 2-for-2, for 42 yards, on the halfback option pass. "We really thought that we'd need to have a balanced offensive attack," Bagnoli said. "It's very difficult to beat a team just throwing or just running the football." After connecting with O'Neill on an 11-yard roll-out pass in Penn's first offensive set, Rader threw the football just eight time in the Quakers' next 24 offensive calls. Then, with Columbia's eight-man defensive front breathing down Finn's throat, Penn offensive coordinator Chuck Priore resorted to a halfback option pass -- the same play the Quakers botched on their first drive last season against Harvard. Rader perfectly executed the hand-off to Finn and ran toward Columbia's secondary coverage, leaving O'Neill wide open in the endzone to catch a Finn touchdown strike. "Obviously, we were a little surprised because we had 11 guys playing the run," Columbia coach Ray Tellier said. "But when you play defense in a certain way, you have to secure that last player." Finn, however, expected the Lions to miscue since the Columbia defense usually converges on the ball carrier. "We knew they were going to bite up the corners and the safeties," Finn said. "I kept running playside and [the Columbia left cornerback] bit up, so I lofted the ball over his head." After Finn's touchdown pass, Rader settled in, completing his final four passes of the half and 12 of his last 16. While the offense executed a gimmick play to crack its first seven onto the scoreboard, Rader, Finn and O'Neill ran the game plan smooth as silk after Columbia middle linebacker Jeremy Taylor went down with a third quarter injury. The trio served as interchangeable parts in Penn's tailored offensive scheme. "They ran a little bit of everything," Tellier said. One minute into the fourth quarter with the Quakers still leading 7-0 and setting up first-and-19 from the Columbia 37-yard line, Priore again called for the halfback option-right. On the play's second run, Columbia free safety Chris Tillotson dropped back on O'Neill, and Finn lofted the ball across the field. A jumping Rader hauled it away from the Lions' defensive back for a 19 yard gain. Three plays later, Rader hit Penn back-up tight end Benjamin Zagorski with a two-yard strike in the endzone. "It's kind of something me and Finn had been talking about, throwing it back to me on the toss," Rader said. "The second time, he threw me a spiral -- a half-spiral maybe -- and I jumped toward the corner and caught the ball." Not only did he use his high school secondary skills to grab Finn's pass, but Rader even scrambled three times for 15 yards, including a 14-yard run on a second-and-seven early in the Quakers' second scoring drive. With Tellier continuing to employ an eight-man front, Rader took special advantage of O'Neill, who faced one-on-one defensive coverage. The sophomore posted another defining game, catching nine passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, O'Neill beat his man down the right sideline and Rader threw a perfect pass leading him toward the endzone for what was almost O'Neill's second touchdown. Hearing footsteps, however, the sophomore receiver tried to catch the ball and cross the endzone in one motion, and he ended up dropping the football altogether. "I think I can read the coverage a little better [this season]," O'Neill said. "Again, Matt did a great job of getting me the ball." The Rader, Finn and O'Neill trio was responsible on Saturday for 303 of the Quakers' 320 total offensive yards, with at least two members of the triumvirate credited for positive yardage on 39 of Penn's 52 completed plays from scrimmage. "It was our biggest game all season," Finn said, his comments clearly an understatement. With the win, Penn remains in control of its own destiny, tied with Princeton atop the Ivies at 2-0. While Columbia entered the contest with the best rush defense in Division I-AA football and the most returning starters in the Ivies, the trio of Rader, Finn and O'Neill befuddled the Lions' eight-man front just enough to squeak out a victory. Could Penn have won on Saturday if Rader were in street clothes? That's one question that the Quakers are content they need not answer.Comments powered by Disqus
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