If this game was a roller coaster ride, its up-and-down nature would deem it too unsafe to ride.
Bouncing back after a loss against Dartmouth, Penn football got up on Sacred Heart quickly, then went down just as quickly, but finally pulled out a 31-27 win to preserve the team's undefeated record in non-conference play.
The game was delayed nearly 30 minutes as the stadium waited for precautionary emergency medical services to arrive. Nevertheless, once the game started, the Quakers (3-1, 0-1 Ivy) needed less than five minutes to put a score up on the board. After forcing the Pioneers (3-2, 1-0 NEC) to punt on their first possession, Penn's offense wasted no time getting to work.
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Glover calmly marched the Quakers down the field with a series of sharp passes. Once in the red zone, junior running back Karekin Brooks took care of the rest, hopping over a Sacred Heart block to waltz into the end zone for a 12-yard score.
Penn appeared to break free in the second quarter, starting with a 51-yard field goal by senior kicker Jack Soslow, which was good enough to tie his career best and push Penn's lead to double digits at 10-0.
The Quakers played strong defense through the rest of the second quarter, allowing the Pioneers to get into Penn territory but never letting them score.
Glover would then throw his first touchdown of the day to senior wide receiver Christian Pearson, who had been hampered by injuries to start the season. The 23-yard grab would make the score 17-0 in favor of the Quakers.
"Early in the game they were giving us a five-man box, and we really felt that we could run," coach Ray Priore said. "Then they started crashing inside the box, and we were able to find Christian out there to make some big plays which was really great to see."
The first half ended with the large stature of 6’3” junior defensive lineman Taheeb Sonekan blocking a Pioneer field goal attempt.
Sacred Heart's fans then quieted down even more at the beginning of the third quarter when junior running back Abe Willows scored with a three-yard rushing touchdown, his first time in the end zone this season.
With the Quakers up 24-0, Willows’ points seemed to put the final nail in the coffin for Sacred Heart. But the home team would soon flip the momentum of the game.
The Pioneers gained 216 yards in the third quarter alone, and with three touchdowns, nearly evened the score to 24-21.
"We got that first touchdown in the second half, and our kids just pulled back a little bit," Priore said. "We let off the accelerator and obviously the snowball effect happened."
Sacred Heart wasn’t finished yet, as Pioneer defensive linebacker Aaron Donaldson returned a Glover fumble to the end zone to put the home side up 27-24. The Quakers blocked the ensuing extra point attempt to keep the lead at three.
Junior defensive back Conor O’Brien gave the Quakers a shot at redemption with 5:55 left in the game, when he picked off a Sacred Heart's pass at midfield. But ultimately, the Quakers came away from the drive empty-handed after failing to convert on fourth down.
Luckily for the Red and Blue, they got another chance with 3:13 remaining to either tie or go for the win.
"We knew we just had to put points on the board," Glover said. "We knew the game was becoming closer and closer, and their offense really had momentum."
On the Quakers’ last possession of the game, Brooks slashed his way through the Sacred Heart defense for a much-needed 41 yards. His efforts put Penn well within Soslow's range, although a field goal would not be needed in the end.
Glover found Pearson on a precise corner route to score the final touchdown of the game. Soslow then put the pigskin through the posts for the point after to finalize the score at 31-27.
The Pioneers would have one final possession, but Penn’s defense would not give up the lead for a second time.
“It’s grit, resiliency. When the water comes back on, you have to push it back,” Priore said.
Despite a weaker showing in the latter half of the game that nearly culminated in a monumental collapse, the Red and Blue found a way to win.
Penn will resume Ivy play on Franklin Field next Saturday against 2017 Ivy League runner-up Columbia.
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