After a much longer-than-anticipated break from action, Penn sprint football finally got to don red and blue once again. Additionally, after dipping his toes in the water with the annual alumni game last Saturday, coach Jerry McConnell was primed for his first real game at the helm.
Unfortunately for the Quakers, their return to the field was spoiled by a 38-13 loss against Army.
After coming out of the gate slowly, Penn quickly fell behind in the first quarter — the offense had trouble getting much movement while Army quarterback JC Watson meticulously picked apart the Quakers' defense. Watson threw for two scores through the air and ran one in from 18 yards out to give the Black Knights a three-score lead.
Then, 30 seconds into the second quarter, Penn was already down 24-0 after Army kicked a field goal.
The Black Knights never looked back.
Dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, Army was able to contain Penn’s rushing attack for the majority of the game. Senior running back Laquan McKever couldn’t get much going on the ground. Despite his numerous carries, he touted the ball 18 times for 62 yards. Junior quarterback Andrew Paolini — who’s often capable of making plays with his legs as well — struggled in that dimension too, as he ended up with negative 37 yards rushing on 12 attempts.
To add further trouble, Penn’s offensive line had difficulty containing Army’s pass rushers, forcing Paolini to scramble out of the pocket on numerous occasions.
As bleak as the situation seemed, Penn was able to keep the Black Knights from scoring again in the first half after their early field goal in the second quarter. The Quakers managed to leave the quarter maintaining a score of 24-0.
Penn knew they had work to do in the second half.
With the ball in the offense’s hands to begin the 3rd quarter, Penn had the chance it was looking for. The Quakers got a quick spark on the second play of the drive.
Paolini found a soft spot in the Black Knights’ zone coverage, hitting freshman wide receiver Jake Wang for a solid 10-yard gain and a first down.
While Penn seemed to have found some momentum to kick off its attempted comeback, Army’s pressure on the defensive front came back to haunt the offense, forcing Paolini to throw an incompletion to avoid a sack, then losing nine yards on the subsequent play.
Soon, Penn had given up another touchdown courtesy of Watson, leading Army to another seven on the board.
Immediately after receiving the ball again, Penn’s offense went for yet another three-and-out, being forced to give the ball back to the Black Knights.
In the blink of an eye, the Black Knight’s special teams broke through Penn’s front line and blocked the punt, leading to Army having the ball at the Penn 13-yard line. Watson made quick work of this fortunate situation, throwing another touchdown to make the score 38-0, Army.
Things seemingly couldn’t get any worse. Yet, from another perspective, Penn could only go up.
After getting a stop on Army’s rolling offense, the Black Knights drew a lucky bounce off a punt and pinned Penn at their own five-yard line. Despite this unfavorable situation, Paolini was able to march the team to their own 20.
On first and 10, Paolini dropped back deep and heaved a nearly half-field throw to the Quaker’s top pass-catcher, senior Brendan McCaffrey, who reeled it in for a touchdown.
Finally, Penn was on the board.
On the next drive, it was the defense’s turn to shine. Reinvigorated, freshman linebacker Matt McKillop drove past Army’s offensive line, nearly sacking Watson for a loss. On the next play, Penn redeemed itself from the prior missed tackle, as sophomore linebacker Drew Zimmer and junior defensive lineman Travis Legum combined for a Watson sack.
Forced to punt, Paolini got another chance to work. On the first play of the drive, Paolini launched another 50-yard bomb down the field to McCaffrey, who ran it in for another score.
Despite the late-game efforts, Penn wasn’t able to complete the comeback, falling 0-1 to start their season. The Quakers will nonetheless appreciate the late game chemistry built between Paolini and McCaffrey and look to build on it next week. The Red and Blue have a shot to get to .500 next Saturday at Mansfield at 7:00 p.m.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.