In the end, it’s good for Penn football that non-conference games don’t count in the Ivy League standings.
Penn football struggled for all but 10 glorious minutes in the second quarter against Central Connecticut State (CCSU) in a 42-21 loss. Injuries and sloppy play made it hard for the Quakers (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) to get anything going.
On the first play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Will Fischer-Colbrie found senior tight end Nicholas Bokun for a 45-yard dagger. Fischer-Colbrie looked for his tight end again on the subsequent play, but the ball bounced off his hands and was intercepted. To add insult to injury (or injury to insult?), Bokun was hurt on the play.
Following the turnover, CCSU (3-3, 1-0 NEC) drove 70 yards on a long and methodical touchdown drive. After forcing a Penn three-and-out after the ensuing kickoff, the Blue Devils repeated a near-identical drive to go up 14-0 in the first quarter.
Penn’s offense finally looked to get things going in the second quarter, but a promising drive was cut short by Fischer-Colbrie’s second interception, which was returned 79 yards for a score. That throw would be the senior’s last of the day, as he was replaced by sophomore transfer Nick Robinson due to injury.
Robinson would lead a furious second quarter comeback to narrow the CCSU lead to seven by halftime.
“The team responded well in the second quarter, Nick did a good job coming in when Will was injured and finding open receivers,” Priore said.
When asked about the situation at quarterback two weeks ago, coach Ray Priore stressed that it had been a quarterback controversy but never a competition. Now, it might have blossomed into one.
Fischer-Colbrie has struggled between stretches of solid play in his first season as a starter. Still, Priore has stuck with him except for a few plays of mop-up duty delegated to Robinson. Today, however, the senior threw as many interceptions (2) as completions before his injury.
Robinson, however, promptly drove Penn 69 yards for a touchdown in his first drive, finding Christian Pearson in the end zone to get Penn on the board. That would be the first of Robinson’s three touchdown passes on the day.
“The second quarter gave us a chance to get back in the game, but Central Connecticut responded well," Priore said. "All credit to them, they did not allow us to carry our momentum into the second half. If we get an early score in the third quarter, maybe it’s a different result.”
Wide receiver Justin Watson played a big role in that second quarter, scoring two touchdowns, including a 44-yard catch-and-run. Watson would end the game with seven catches and 104 all-purpose yards in addition to his pair of scores. The preseason All-American eclipsed 3000 receiving yards in the second half, becoming only the second Quaker and sixth Ivy Leaguer to do so.
“Justin Watson is deserving of all the honors and records he is breaking,” Priore said. “He’s doing things that are very rare in our League and we’re fortunate to have six more games with him.”
The second half was all CCSU. The Blue Devils defense pitched a shutout in the remaining two quarters, while forcing another Penn turnover. Offensively, CCSU had long drive after long drive, scoring on drives of 86 and 88 yards in the third and fourth quarters respectively.
Those long drives also kept the Red and Blue offense off the field for long stretches of time, making any possible comeback attempt that much harder.
“This was probably all the clichés of a tough road game with critical turnovers, defensive touchdowns against, and injuries to key players making it hard for us to ever gain momentum. [That] made this an uphill battle for us,” Priore said.