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Mike Verille carried 26 times for 97 yards, including a touchdown, in the Penn football team's victory over Columbia on Saturday. The Quakers senior also received a 14-yard touchdown pass from Gavin Hoffman. (Trevor Grandle/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

Two long scoring drives to begin the third quarter turned a 23-19 nail-biter into an insurmountable 37-19 lead, as the Penn football team rallied from an early deficit to soundly defeat Columbia, 43-25, Saturday at Franklin Field. Quakers quarterback Gavin Hoffman passed for 235 yards and three touchdowns, and backup tailback Mike Verille -- who took over after Kris Ryan left with a sprained right knee in the first quarter -- rushed for 97 yards and scored twice to pace a balanced Penn attack. Colin Smith, Todd Okolovitch and Doug O'Neill also found their way into the end zone for Penn -- the latter two only minutes apart in the third quarter -- as the home team brushed aside the upstart Lions. Columbia (2-3, 0-2 Ivy League) struck first just 4:07 into the game on a one-yard Johnathan Reese plunge, but Penn (3-2, 2-0) responded three minutes later on a 32-yard strike down the middle from Hoffman to Smith. Both squads scored on their first two possessions, and neither team punted in an offensive-dominated first half. But thanks to a Fred Plaza interception and a Brian Drake fumble recovery that gave Penn excellent field position, the Quakers put together two quick second-quarter scoring drives and led at the break. "The first half was a game of the short field," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "Whoever had the field position was going to score, and they had it off of kickoff returns, and we had it off of the turnovers." Penn came out of the locker room on fire after the half, and proceeded to turn a four-point contest into a blowout. Encountering minimal opposition, the Quakers ripped off a 76-yard, five-play scoring drive, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Okolovitch. "Coming out of the half like that was huge," Penn linebacker Dan Morris said. "The offense came right out and scored, and defensively we just had to shut the door, and we did that." O'Neill caught a two-yard play-action pass alone in the end zone on Penn's next possession, to finish off a 74-yard, 12-play drive, and the Quakers never were seriously threatened again. Hoffman went 8-for-8 in the quarter; the Quakers led the Lions 173-19 in total offense in the period; and Penn scored three times in the first 15:04 of the half to end any thoughts of an upset. "They just whipped us in the third quarter," Columbia coach Ray Tellier said. "We knew they were a good offensive team, and we still struggled to stop them. We just couldn't continue to generate offense, and they did." Reese rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns for the Lions, to go with an impressive 61-yard kickoff return. But the junior had only eight of his 28 carries in the second half, as Columbia was forced to pass to get back into the game. "John is a heck of a player. People are geared to stop him, and he still gets his yards," Tellier said. "The key is to keep the game close, where he continually is a threat. And in the second half it got a little bit away." Lions quarterback Jeff McCall completed 14-of-31 passes for 123 yards, but only spread the wealth around to five receivers. In contrast, Hoffman connected with eight wideouts and had no interceptions. O'Neill hauled in a team-high six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. After a sub-par performance a week ago, Hoffman and the entire offense looked smooth and crisp in Saturday's win. "To have zero turnovers was really big," Hoffman said. "Coach has been stressing that all week, and we worked really hard in making good decisions." On the other side of the ball, the play of the Quakers defense in the second half -- holding the Lions to only 2-of-6 on third-down conversions -- was yet another step in the right direction. But despite the positives that Penn can take from its victory, at the same time the loss of Ryan looms ominously large. The Quakers star running back had an MRI on Sunday, and while he was gingerly walking around campus yesterday with the aid of crutches, Ryan is still a game-time decision for Yale. News and Notes With a 19-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, senior Jason Feinberg became Penn's all-time leading scorer among placekickers. With 174 career points, Feinberg is the Quakers fifth-leading all-time scorer, 36 points from the top spot... Hoffman is fourth on Penn's all-time passing yardage list, and needs only 226 yards to take over the top slot.

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