In a dozen attempts over the past century, Penn had yet to beat Villanova.
It would have been an upset 102 years in the making. It would have been a celebration to remember, snapping a 12-game losing streak and knocking off a Philadelphia rival.
But instead, the celebration belonged once again to the Wildcats, who ensured from the opening kickoff to the final whistle at Villanova Stadium that their streak wouldn’t be jeopardized.
When the whistle sounded after four quarters of Wildcats domination, Villanova had notched a 35-6 victory over the Quakers. The win marked Villanova coach Andy Talley’s 200th career victory with the school.
The difference for the Wildcats was dual-threat quarterback John Robertson. The sophomore signal-caller never let the Quakers (1-1) get comfortable on defense by utilizing a deadly combo of quarterback keepers and spot-on deep balls to burn the Red and Blue secondary.
“It’s tough to defend,” senior defensive back Dan Wilk said. “With a quarterback that can run, it basically gives them two fullbacks and makes it that much harder to get to him.”
Robertson used his arms and legs to give the Wildcats (2-2) an early 7-0 lead, but the Quakers seemed poised to answer right back, with an opportunity at a 37-yard field goal halfway through the first quarter.
However, instead of Penn cutting the lead to four, Villanova extended its lead to 14 by blocking senior Connor Loftus’ kick and returning it 73 yards for a touchdown.
The block was all the Wildcats needed to get going, as Robertson easily dissected the Penn defense for the remaining three quarters.
Many of Robertson’s best plays came because the Red and Blue failed to pressure him in the pocket, constantly leaving him the option of airing it out or pulling it down and breaking off a big run.
“He’s a gifted kid,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “And he plays with a speed that we just don’t ever see.”
By the end of the evening, Robertson had compiled 266 yards through the air, 132 yards on the ground and four total touchdowns.
With an exhausted defense, the Red and Blue needed to eat clock on offense and drive down the field, but the Wildcats defense would have none of it. The Quakers ground game combined for just 13 yards on 15 carries in the first half and 43 yards on 21 carries for the game, forcing quarterbacks Billy Ragone and Ryan Becker to pass.
Senior wide receiver Conner Scott was their man, nearly eclipsing 100 receiving yards in the first half and finishing with 129 yards on the game.
“Billy [Ragone] and [Ryan] Becker were finding me great,” Scott said. “We really took advantage of the single coverage and we had some success with it.”
But when the ball wasn’t in Scott’s hands, things tended to take a turn for the worse. Each Penn quarterback threw an interception in the end zone and combined for three picks on the day, forcing an already tired defense into devastatingly frequent action.
By the end of the half, the Villanova lead was already 21-0.
Early in the second half, Ragone charged down the field and into the record books, finding junior running back Spencer Kulcsar for his 50th career touchdown toss, good for second in Penn history.
But just when the offense was starting to gain some steam, Robertson stole the momentum back for the Wildcats, breaking off a 36-yard touchdown run to sink the Quakers’ fading hopes.
The Red and Blue tried everything to make a comeback, using both quarterbacks, but just couldn’t figure out the Villanova defense. There were numerous drives during which the Quakers moved the ball deep into Wildcats territory, but Penn just couldn’t finish them off.
Eager to eat clock, Villanova turned to running back Kevin Monangai to chip away at the Quakers defense and finish off the game.
The result was a first of the Al Bagnoli era.
Along with Robertson’s 140 yards on the ground, Monangai tacked on 101 of his own, marking the only time that a Bagnoli-coached defense has ever allowed multiple 100-yard rushers.
“The creative things they do, the way they put their players in space and utilize their skill set is very impressive,” Bagnoli said.
The Wildcats picked off three passes without committing a turnover of their own and outrushed the Quakers, 276-43.
The Red and Blue now have a sobering reality check in tow as they get prepared for their Ivy League slate, which starts next Saturday against Dartmouth, at Franklin Field at 1 p.m.
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