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1st football game of season v. Lafayette Credit: Michelle Bigony

The Penn defense that finished No. 1 in the nation in 2009 picked up right where it left off in Saturday’s season-opening victory against Lafayette.

Defensive coordinator Ray Priore’s unit was the primary reason why, despite giving up a pick-six, a blocked punt return and losing the turnover battle 2-1 in the first half, the Quakers entered the locker room trailing by just eight points.

“We’ve played Lafayette the last two years that I’ve traveled, and we’ve been down 17 or 24 to nothing at halftime. So when we were down eight we weren’t really panicking too bad,” said cornerback Jon Saelinger, who replaced All-Ivy seniors Chris Wynn and Jonathan Moore in the starting lineup.

“We knew if we could keep playing solid defense that our offense was going to get it done for us.”

The Leopards put together only three drives of more than 13 yards in the entire game. And their six-play, 51-yard drive in the second quarter — Lafayette’s longest of the contest — ended in Saelinger’s first of three interceptions.

“That’s a personal record going back pretty far,” the senior said. “We talk about becoming a receiver when the ball is in the air, and I just tried to put myself in position to make a play.”

“We’ll tell him to go to Atlantic City and buy lottery tickets right now,” coach Al Bagnoli joked, noting Saelinger’s fortunate position on some of his interceptions.

Not only did Penn defenders capitalize on their big-play opportunities, but when the unit had its back against the wall, it stood firm.

With under five minutes remaining, after Lafayette had lost its lead, it finally managed to work its way into Penn territory — for just the second time in the game. On a 3rd-and-1 from the Penn 46-yard line, Lafayette failed to convert. Twice.

And in the game’s final minute, after the Leopards recovered a fumble at midfield and had one final chance to eke out the win, not even the classic hook and ladder could fool the Quakers.

The numbers just don’t lie, and the numbers on Penn’s defense are astounding. Forget that it gave up just 168 yards of offense and just 19 on the ground compared to the 243 achieved by the Quakers’ backs.

Penn's 'D' has not allowed a single point in its last 137 minutes and 58 seconds, a span of more than nine quarters dating back to the third frame against Harvard on Nov. 14 of last season.

And after Saturday’s game, there’s no telling when that streak will end.

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