Penn football hasn’t won its season-opener in three straight years, and at halftime, it looked like the Quakers were on their way to four. The second half was a completely different story, though.
After falling behind 7-0 and 10-7 in the first half, Penn dominated in the second half to defeat Division II’s Ohio Dominican, 42-24.
“Anybody can beat you at any given time. We wanted our kids to handle adversity, which was happening in the first half,” coach Ray Priore said, “But there were a lot of new pieces going out there, and I thought our players acclimated well."
Entering the game, the biggest question for the Red and Blue (1-0) was how they would replace quarterback Alek Torgersen, who now plays on the Washington Redskins’ practice squad. For the entire first quarter, Penn did little to answer to answer that question.
Making his first ever collegiate appearance ever, senior starting quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie struggled to get any kind of rhythm going early. After multiple drives, he managed only three completions for 23 yards with multiple pass attempts going into the ground.
Early in the second quarter, coach Ray Priore decided to go with another quarterback. Sophomore quarterback Nick Robinson subbed in for Fischer-Colbrie and promptly threw a 59-yard touchdown bomb to star senior wide receiver Justin Watson to tie the game 7-7 after the Panthers (0-3) took an early lead.
Robinson started the next series for Penn too, but this time the Quakers were backed up on their own 1-yard line. The Quakers suffered a quick three-and-out and were forced to punt the ball back to the Panthers.
Taking advantage of good field position at Penn’s 35 yard line, Ohio Dominican marched into Penn’s red zone before being forced to kick a field goal and take a 10-7 lead with 3:51 left in the half.
Despite the promise Robinson showed on his first drive, Priore elected to go back to Fischer-Colbrie for the Quakers’ next offensive series. Fischer-Colbrie appeared more comfortable in the pocket than he did earlier in the game, but he failed to put up any points again as the Red and Blue went into locker room down 10-7 at the half.
“During the week, we had said that we were doing it [subbing quarterbacks] no matter what it was going to be. Obviously, it gave the glare and the appearance that ‘oh my god he [Fischer-Colbrie] wasn’t doing well’, but then he went right back in,” Priore said. “I think it was really, really good for him to settle down, relax, and see the game.”
In the second half, Fischer-Colbrie looked like a different player, as he led Penn to the end zone on its first three drives of the half to break the game open for the Quakers. Robinson went in for Fischer-Colbrie again in the fourth, with the senior finishing his day with two touchdowns and 198 yards on 18 completions.
"You could probably tell I had to get my feet underneath me there, you know after the first quarter, first half. But after that, it felt good,” Fischer-Colbrie said. “It felt like I was playing football again, which is something I really enjoy to do, and I just had to get back to that.”
While Penn seemed to find a better answer to its quarterback issue than it did after the first quarter, the game exposed some other areas that the Quakers will need to improve before Ivy League play starts.
With All-Ivy cornerback Mason Williams now playing for Duke following a summer transfer, Penn’s secondary struggled to contain Ohio Dominican's passing game. All three of the visitors' touchdowns came through the air as the Panthers scorched the Red and Blue’s defense for 353 passing yards.
And while the pass defense will certainly be something to watch out for in the coming days, the Quakers’ proved that they were capable of making big plays when it mattered as they forced Ohio Dominican into four fumbles and cut several deep Panther drives short of the end zone.
“Our focus was just on us. Our focus was on Penn football. Being in our zone, doing what we do, and our coaches set us up with a great game plan, made it super easy for us,” senior linebacker Colton Moskal said.
Something else to look out for is the health status of All-Ivy senior running back Tre Solomon, who left the game in the first quarter with what appeared to be ankle injury. The good news for Penn was that the team's other running backs filled in admirably for Solomon. Led by sophomore Karekin Brooks’ 142 yards and two touchdowns, the Red and Blue rushed for 302 total yards.
Next weekend, the Quakers will travel to Lehigh with an eye for revenge after the Mountain Hawks defeated them 49-28 last season.
“It’s building blocks,” Priore said. “We just hit the first little rest stop on this mountain, and now we’re ready to pack up and climb a little more.”