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Penn Football defeated Columbia 21-13 at Columbia's home field. Credit: Alex Remnick

NEW YORK — All week long, coach Al Bagnoli warned his Penn football players that Columbia would be amped to play them.

Indeed, as late as Friday evening, he told them that they’d have to “weather a very early emotional rush” to secure their 13th-consecutive win against the Lions.

But the only prevalent rush — early, late and often — was that of Penn’s pass defenders. Facing the fourth-best turnover-margin team in the nation, the Quakers forced six turnovers from Lions quarterback M.A. Olawale en route to a 27-13 victory in Keiffer Garton’s return to action.

Lions star receiver Austin Knowlin was also responsible for a fumble on a punt return.

“I turned the ball over seven times. That’s just not something I can do. Not many football teams are going to win games when you turn the ball over seven times,” said Columbia coach Norries Wilson, who was quick to accept blame and deflect credit away from the Quakers (3-2, 2-0 Ivy).

“Well, let’s see,” he continued. “I snapped the ball through the quarterback’s legs and I didn’t run and cover it — I don’t think Penn forced that one. I think it’s a function of not having attention to detail. That’s just my opinion. I could be absolutely wrong.”

Wilson’s words notwithstanding, the Quakers’ pass rush wreaked havoc on Olawale. He was sacked three times and forced to scramble or throw it away frequently (the Ivy League does not keep statistics for quarterback hurries).

In part because of the sacks and failed keepers, and in part because of Penn’s defensive domination, Columbia (2-3, 1-1) officially finished with negative 20 rushing yards.

Olawale was hit as he threw on two of his interceptions, including one from the Penn four-yard line. The ball popped loose, nearly straight up in the air, primed to be perfectly plucked by defenders Kameron Jones (first quarter) and Erik Rask (fourth).

“I held on to the ball too long,” Olawale said.

Rask added, “Second half, we brought a lot pressure. Our key was trying to get to him, just trying to get the ball, and we did a great job.”

In the second half, they also allowed no points. The turnovers allowed Penn to handily win the time of possession battle (38:36 to 21:24) and compensate for its own miscues (three turnovers and a missed 43-yard field goal.)

And they gave some breathing room to Garton, the Quakers’ starting quarterback who had missed two-straight games with a right elbow injury.

The mobile passer was not sharp early. Twice in the first quarter, he threw passes directly to Columbia defenders, and he struggled to find seams on keepers.

Yet in the first half, he also hooked up with Matt Tuten on a 15-yard fade into the endzone and gunned an 11-yard pass to Matt Hamscher for his first two throwing touchdowns of 2009. Garton looked more comfortable as the game progressed and finished 11-for-19 for 104 yards.

“I was a little too hyped up early — just ready to go, trying to do too much,” said Garton, who added that his elbow feels fine.

That’s good news for the Quakers, who have exhausted their quarterback options so much that no Penn signal caller was eligible to be listed among the league’s passing leaders.

Preseason All-American cornerback Chris Wynn (leg) and running back Lyle Marsh (ankle) also returned from injury, although running back Bradford Blackmon twisted his ankle on the first play of Saturday’s game and did not return. But Bagnoli said that Blackmon “should be fine” going forward.

So Penn can go back to Philadelphia and, if briefly, celebrate an important road win over a surging conference rival. The Quakers are tied for the Ivy League lead with Harvard, which was trounced at home by Lafayette, 35-18, Saturday.

“We got the 24-hour rule,” Bagnoli said: Celebrate for one day, then get ready for next week’s Family Weekend matchup with Yale.

“We’re going to have to get ramped up for that. The stakes get higher and higher as the season progresses. There’s very little margin for error in our league.”

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