Al Bagnoli knew the game was anything but over when his Penn football team held a 24-7 advantage over Lehigh heading into the final quarter.
Just a week earlier, the same Lehigh team made an eerily familiar 24-7 Princeton lead disappear in the fourth quarter. So when the fourth-ranked Engineers came storming back, it came as no surprise to the Penn head coach.
But this time, Lehigh fell just short. Or more precisely, wide right.
Matt Douglas pushed a the game-tying 29-yard field goal just right of the crossbars with 1:12 left, as the Quakers held on for a dramatic 24-21 victory under the lights of Franklin Field on Saturday.
Not only did the win end Lehigh's highly-publicized 26-game regular season winning streak, it also marked the first time the Quakers defeated the Engineers since 1982.
"It's a great win for our program," said Bagnoli, who is now 1-3 lifetime against Lehigh. "It's not a fluke that they're the fourth-ranked team in the country. Our kids did everything they need to do... and sometimes you need a little bit of luck."
Perhaps luck was on Penn's side as Douglas' chip shot sailed wide, but there was nothing lucky about the stellar play of Penn's defense throughout the game.
The normally rock-solid rush defense gave up 112 rushing yards to Lehigh speedster Jermaine Pugh, but the unit made up for it with a handful of huge plays.
Led by senior safety Vince Alexander -- who had six tackles, two which may have saved touchdowns, and two interceptions -- the Quakers' defense forced five Lehigh turnovers.
"Our defense this year is stressing takeaways," Alexander said. "Last year, we would get our hands on the ball but we wouldn't come up with the interceptions. This year, we actually want the ball. When the ball's in the air, our [defensive backs] know it's our ball just as much as the receivers."
Alexander's pair of pickoffs, which came on consecutive possessions in the first quarter, was an early Christmas present for the Penn offense, which looked out-of-sync early on against a strong Engineers defense.
The Quakers started drives after Alexander's picks at the Lehigh 18 and 25. They put 10 points on the scoreboard, thanks to a 42-yard field goal from Peter Veldman and a five-yard touchdown strike to Rob Milanese, who became Penn's all-time leader in receiving yards later in the game.
"Every time we see the turnovers and see 9 [Vince Alexander] racing down the field, all of us breathe a little easier," said Penn running back Stephen Faulk, who rushed for just 49 yards on 23 carries but scored twice. "Field position is extremely important in these kind of games."
The defense really does deserve a lot of credit for the 24 points Penn was able to score.
The Quakers never pieced together a scoring drive with more than four plays, and the only one longer than 24 yards came at the end of the first half, when Penn raced down the field in less than a minute to score on a hook-and-ladder. That play gave the Quakers a 17-7 lead as time expired in the first half.
"Certainly in my five years at Lehigh, I've never seen our offense put our defense in that poor field position," Engineers coach Pete Lembo said. "I think to hold a very good offensive football team to 24 points with that kind of field position is just an incredible job by our defense."
And it was almost enough. With Lehigh's defense stifling the Quakers -- who also shot themselves in the foot with 10 penalties -- the Engineers were able to crawl back into the game.
Lehigh's Eric Roth blocked a Josh Appell punt and then recovered the ball in the endzone to cut the deficit to 10, 24-14. On the Engineers' next possession, backup quarterback Matt Shiels, who came on to replace a struggling Chad Schwenk, drove his team down the field in an extremely efficient three-play, 46-yard scoring drive to make the score 24-21.
But that, of course, is how it would stay, as Douglas' now famous foot allowed Penn to squeak out the win.
"You can point to that field goal all you want, but I don't look at that field goal at all," Lembo said. "It never should have come down to that."Comments powered by Disqus
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