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Penn @ Villanova, loses 22-10 26 Lyle Marsh Credit: Melanie Lei

With the Penn football team traveling up the Main Line to take on top-ranked Villanova, Penn coach Al Bagnoli knew what to expect.

“One of the problems in this game is you can’t make a mistake,” he said. “Your margin of error is basically nil.”

While the Quakers kept within striking distance of the Wildcats, a number of mistakes and a costly injury proved to make the difference in Saturday night’s matchup.

Facing its best competition of the year, Penn yielded just one turnover, won the time-of-possession battle and racked up fewer penalty yards than Villanova. But the Red and Blue eventually fell to the more athletic Wildcats in a 22-10 defeat.

After encountering some trouble early on against a tough ’Nova defense, Penn finally broke through in the second quarter.

Sophomore running back Lyle Marsh catalyzed a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive with 40 rushing yards before sophomore running back Brandon Colavita punched the ball through at the goal line with a two-yard dive.

The game’s first score came with a price however, as Marsh suffered a game-ending injury. Penn coach Al Bagnoli disclosed after the game that Marsh had probably shattered his forearm and likely played his last down for Penn this season.

The Red and Blue’s luck started going downhill from there.

After the defense forced a three-and-out on the following series, Penn’s offense took over at their own 17-yard line. With quarterback Ryan Becker in the shotgun for his first snap of the game, Luis Ruffolo — filling in for injured All-Ivy center Joe D’Orazio — snapped the ball over Becker’s head into the endzone, resulting in a safety.

With the score now 7-2, Penn was forced to punt, giving the Wildcats great field position on the ensuing drive.

With some strong play from QB Chris Whitney, ’Nova took only seven plays to hit paydirt, as running back Angelo Babbaro finished off the drive with a one-yard score. The Wildcats took a 9-7 lead into halftime.

Neither team had much success moving the ball after the break, until Villanova started a drive from inside their own 15-yard line. The Penn defense initially stalled the Wildcats, until the Quakers roughed the punter, giving the ’Nova drive new life.

Later in the drive, ’Nova RB Aaron Ball found a huge hole and broke free. He made it all the way from the Wildcats’ 34-yard line to the Penn 15 before being chased down by Penn safety Josh Powers, who masterfully punched the ball out, resulting in a turnover which the Quakers recovered in their endzone.

After struggling to move the ball since Marsh’s departure in the second quarter, Penn’s offense finally picked up in the onset of the fourth frame, as quarterback Billy Ragone marched the Quakers down the field on the strength of a few clutch completions. Andrew Samson capped off the drive with a 19-yard field goal, putting the Quakers up 10-9.

However the lead wouldn’t stand for long.

The Wildcats stormed right back into Penn territory on the following drive, which was highlighted by a 21-yard touchdown strike from Whitney to wide out Norman White.

Villanova coach Andy Talley elected to go for the two-point conversion to make it a seven-point ballgame but Whitney’s pass to the back of the endzone was incomplete.

The Quakers started their next drive at the Penn 28-yard line down only five points with 4:23 remaining. Needing a score, Ragone began to lead the Quakers toward the 50 with two big completions.

However on a 1st-and-10 play from the Penn 48, Ragone attempted to hit his tight end in the flat. Yet ’Nova defensive back James Pitts jumped the route and took the ball back to the house, sealing the win for the Wildcats.

“A bad snap, an interception, a missed field goal, you just can’t do that in this game,” Bagnoli said.

“It’s one of those games where they force you — because of their athleticism — to play virtually a perfect game, which is really hard to do.”

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