EASTON, Pa. — It’s never a great sign when a team’s punter arguably has the best day out of anyone on the team.
That might just have been the case, though, on Saturday against a previously 0-3 Lafayette squad. Penn punter Ben Krimm launched six punts for 233 yards, with three landing either at or inside the 10-yard line.
During Saturday’s rough outing, Penn (1-1) only obtained the lead on one occasion, and once that happened, the Quakers quickly gave up two consecutive touchdowns, punctuating a difficult game for the Red and Blue.
“We knew going in they were a good football team going in,” Priore said. “They played three scholarship schools early in their season. They have a tough defense; it was going to be tough to drive.”
On the very first possession of the game, Lafayette came just shy of a huge, game-changing play, as quarterback Ah-Shaun Davis bombed it out down the field to his receiver, but junior cornerback Jason McCleod was able to get his hand in, make a play on the ball, and knock it down for an incompletion.
“We were in Cover 3, they ran a post, and I was just trying to get to the post,” McCleod said. “Basically, he threw the ball, and I had to play through the eyes to the hands, which is what my coach told me, and that was an incompletion.”
After punts by both teams, Penn regained possession. On the drive, senior wide receiver Ryan Cragun, who earlier had a four-yard completion to bring him to 999 yards for his career, caught a longer pass for 23 yards to bring him over 1,000. In doing so, he became just the 21st wideout in program history to reach the milestone.
Rolling off of the momentum from Cragun’s catch-and-run, senior quarterback John Quinnelly launched a ball to senior wideout Rory Starkey Jr. that was slightly past him, but Starkey made an impressive one-handed grab to secure the ball and the first down. A few plays later, Quinnelly overthrew Starkey on what could have been a Quaker touchdown.
This play ended up being a microcosm of the game for the Quakers, who stymied themselves on many occasions with easy miscues.
“I think, overall, [we] had some opportunities that we missed out on, first half and second half,” Quinnelly said. “[We] have to take advantage of those if we want to win a game. It starts with me leading the offense as well as our leaders on all sides of the ball. It goes back to us, and I’ll take full responsibility for that.”
Then on third down, with the Red and Blue in field goal position, Quinnelly took a devastating sack, which was piled onto by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Penn offensive lineman Travis Spreen. This series of events took the Quakers out of field goal position, leading to a costly punt that acted as a missed opportunity.
On the next drive, Penn held firm with another big McCleod pass break-up, which allowed them to get the ball back. Again, however, Penn was unable to capitalize and was forced to punt.
Fourth down is where things went really went askew, though, as a bouncing snap forced Krimm to struggle to get ahold of the ball and made him unable to get the punt off, allowing the Leopards to regain possession on Penn’s 38-yard line.
From there, Lafayette was able to march into the end zone on an end-around to standout wide receiver Joe Gillette, who ran along the sidelines for a quick score.
Penn answered relatively quickly, though, on its own second quarter touchdown drive. After a crucial 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Lafayette put the Quakers in decent field position, Quinnelly launched a dime to Rory Starkey, who made key catches all day for the Red and Blue, this one on a post route for a 36-yard touchdown to tie the game up at 7.
Going into halftime, Penn faced a 10-7 deficit, certainly not an insurmountable one, but one that Penn did few favors in helping itself overcome.
Things looked optimistic, however, when Starkey caught another deep ball from Quinnelly to bring Penn inside the 30, and then Cragun made a leaping catch to put the Red and Blue at the one-yard line. To cap off the drive, senior running back Trey Flowers glided into the end-zone for a one-yard score, giving Penn a 14-10 lead, its last of the game.
Lafayette answered right away, though, with Gillette going straight into the end zone on the first play of the ensuing drive on a 70-yard catch from Davis. Though Gillette caught the ball in open space, the Quakers had several chances to get him down, but missed every one.
As the Quakers’ hopes were still very much high, only trailing by three, the team caught a huge break, with Lafayette kicker Micah Pettit missing a short kick to give Penn the ball back.
The miss seemed like a momentum shift, as Cragun caught a 15-yard pass instantly on the next drive, but those hopes were shortly halted.
Facing a potential sack, and with a holding penalty already called on Penn’s line, Quinnelly tried to get the ball off, but threw it right into Lafayette linebacker Billy Shaeffer’s hands, who waltzed in for a pick-six.
“It’s just not a good play by me,” Quinnelly said. “I’m trying to do too much, but at the end of the day, that’s completely on me. I’ll go back and look at the film and get better from it."
The touchdown put Penn down two scores, a margin they couldn’t manage to come back from.
On the next drive, Penn drove down the field, and after missing several opportunities to get into the end zone, kicker Daniel Karrash missed an essential field goal, keeping the Quakers down two scores.
The game just about wrapped up with another two Quinnelly interceptions. One of them was caught by a Leopard cornerback at Lafayette 32-yard line, and the other one almost happened even quicker, with a Leopard defenseman dropping a potential interception. On the very next play, Shaeffer caught his second pick of the night, which fully wiped away any chances the Quakers might have had.
The picks capped off an inconsistent outing by the new starter, who, in addition to throwing two interceptions, overthrew potential deep touchdowns to wideouts Owen Goldsberry and Starkey.
“As the pressure mounted - last week, we played ahead and when you play ahead, you don’t try to force things — when you play from behind, unfortunately, you try to do too much,” Priore said. “We are excited about him. John will be our quarterback, and he is a good football player. These are learning experiences.”
Starkey, on the other hand, arguably had a career day, notching seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown, although he did drop a pass.
While sparks flew for a few of Penn’s wideouts, Cragun included, Penn’s run game was what really set the team back, as Isaiah Malcome struggled to get anything going all game, running the ball 14 times for just 22 yards.
Defensively, McCleod was a standout with two key pass breakups, and junior corner Mohammed Diakite made a couple of preventative plays on both defense and special teams that could have made the margin of defeat even greater. Additionally, graduate defensive lineman Prince Emili netted two sacks in the loss.
“You saw some great individual efforts,” Priore said. “But it’s a team sport, and you have to make team plays. We were flashy here and there, but we didn’t have the consistency that we like to have in a game, and it showed.”
While Penn has proven that it can play better than it did today, the team will have a lot of work to do before it enters Ivy competition on Friday at 7 p.m. against Dartmouth at Franklin Field.