Coming off a strong performance against Lehigh at home last week, the Quakers traveled to New York City to take on the 4-1 Columbia Lions during their homecoming weekend. The Quakers showed flashes of dominance, but were unable to piece together a complete performance, as they fell to the Lions, 23-14.
The first quarter was relatively uneventful for both teams. The Quakers (2-3, 0-2 Ivy) won the toss and deferred until the second half. Columbia’s promising opening drive lasted 10 plays and went 31 yards but stalled out at the Penn 45. After receiving their punt at their own 15, Penn proceeded to drive 30 yards in eight plays, but on third and six from their own 45, senior quarterback John Quinnelly overthrew senior tight end Shane Sweitzer to force a Quaker punt. The Lions, starting from their own 24, managed to drive 62 yards in 10 plays, highlighted by a 22-yard run from running back Dante Miller, and capped it off with a 32-yard field goal by kicker Alex Felkins to take a 3-0 lead.
Miller, who flashed his speed all afternoon, is also a sprinter on the Columbia track and field team.
Penn then managed to drive 39 yards in 10 plays but was not able to progress past the Columbia 36, leading coach Ray Priore to elect to punt. The drive was highlighted by the alternating plays between Quinnelly and sophomore Maurcus McDaniel, who is listed on the roster as a defensive back, under center.
"Rotating the quarterbacks didn’t have any bad effect on our time," McDaniel said. "It was a way to keep the ball moving; we just got to be able to execute and move the ball the way we want to, with an emphasis on our running game, and I think I add a whole lot to that, and that will open our offense and passing game as well."
McDaniel starter at quarterback in high school for Episcopal Academy, winning Inter-AC MVP before switching positions in college.
The Lions proceeded to then drive 46 yards in 12 plays, but Felkins’ 44-yard field goal attempt sailed left, giving the Quakers the ball back with solid field position. After an uneventful first two plays, near disaster struck the Quakers when Quinnelly was sacked for a five-yard loss by defensive end Paul Akere on third down, forcing a punt.
However, more concerning for the Quakers was Quinnelly requiring two teammates to help him off the field. Disappointment on the Quaker sideline quickly turned to jubilation, as returner Mike Roussos muffed the punt, and it was recovered by junior linebacker Luke Hoggard at the Columbia 30. McDaniel soon punched it in from five yards out to give the Quakers a 7-3 lead.
“[McDaniel] coming in was a running quarterback out of high school; we … utilized him as a wide receiver, defensive back, and quarterback in spring camp, and he's a great overall athlete," Priore said. "He gives you another dimension to the offense that you have to defend against, and we try to use that in key moments to draw the opponent off balance."
The lead, however, was short-lived, as on the first play of the next drive, Miller saw a gaping hole on the left side of the line and took it 75 yards to the house, giving the Lions a 10-7 lead. Quinnelly returned for the next series, but the Quakers went three and out, and Roussos redeemed himself with a 23-yard return to give the Lions excellent field position at Penn 43. After a two-yard rush by Miller, quarterback Joe Green lofted a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Wills Meyer, making the score 17-7 in favor of the Lions. This time, Penn, aided by a series of penalties, was able to answer right before halftime on a 30-yard rushing touchdown by graduate student running back Isaiah Malcome, to make the score 17-14.
“[Penn and Columbia are] two evenly matched teams on defense and on offense, and [we were] hoping to get it to the fourth quarter on a level playing field," Priore said. "The defense played well for the most part, besides the two big runs from [Miller].”
Coming out of the half, the Quakers started off slow, going three and out. However, a 60-yard punt by junior punter Ben Krimm pinned the Lions at their own nine. The defense forced a three and out, and a 14-yard return by sophomore returner Walter Soefker gave the Quakers excellent field position on Columbia’s 37. However, Penn was only able to muster two yards of offense on the drive, and on a fourth and eight from their opponent’s 35, Priore — for the second time — elected to punt well within opponent territory.
The Lions took the touchback and drove 67 yards in nine plays to the Penn 13. However, on third and eight, Green’s pass fell incomplete in the end zone, and the Lions settled for a 31-yard field goal from Felkins to make the score 20-14. The Quakers once again stalled out in three plays in their next drive, and Columbia, in the ensuing drive, drove all the way to the Quaker 26. However, Felkins’ 44-yard attempt drifted to the right, once again giving Penn new life in a one-possession game.
With its newfound opportunity, the Quakers hit on their first big passing play of the day, a 32-yard throw that was perfectly placed between two defenders by Quinnelly into the arms of senior tight end Chris Mottillo. However, the Lions defense stepped up, forcing a fourth and nine on the Quakers' next set of downs at the Columbia 41. Once again, Priore chose to punt, with the Lions getting the ball back at their own 20. Penn’s defense once again stepped up and forced a three and out, giving the offense the ball back at their own 35. McDaniel and senior running back Trey Flower designed runs that were able to lead the Quakers to the Lions’ 39, but Columbia’s defense was able to hold them off from getting a fresh set of downs.
Finally, Priore decided to go for it on the fourth down. Quinnelly dropped back and scrambled, barely avoided linebacker Cam Dillon, but was unable to complete, his pass for senior wide receiver Ryan Cragun falling out of bounds.
The Quaker defense was able to get a stop at their own 46, but on their next drive, the offense once again went three and out, and they punted. At the Penn 48, Miller once again broke loose, taking off for 41 yards before getting stopped at the 7. While the Quakers were able to stop running back Gabriel Hollingsworth at the goal line on third and goal, Felkins’ 20-yard field goal gave the Lions a nine point lead at 23-14, effectively sealing the victory for them with just under three minutes left. Penn was able to get to its own 45 before Quinnelly’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete. Columbia took over on downs and kneeled the rest of the way.
With the loss, the Quakers fell to 2-3 for the season, and their Ivy League title hopes are in serious jeopardy. The Quakers gained only 267 yards of total offense, compared to the Lions' 426, though both teams ran roughly the same number of plays. Quinnelly struggled the entire game, completing only six out of 25 passes for 83 yards and no touchdowns.
"We had a couple bad penalties — too many simple mistakes that will cost you in a game like that," Priore said. "We have to take a self-assessment of where we are in the program, and look at it from a big picture, and see how to move the pieces to see how they fit best in winning games — at the quarterback spot, and in other positions — and we will analyze everything, and see player performances, and see where everyone is at."
Penn’s defense struggled with runs the entire game — allowing 184 rush yards — and questionable play calling, including three punts within Columbia territory.
“[There was] still a lot of time left, and if it was a manageable third-down situation, we would have considered going for it, but it was around eight or nine yards," Priore said. "And in the third quarter, you don’t want to take many risks, giving the opponent the ball back around the 42-yard line, so we wanted to be smart with the game plan throughout the game.”
The Quakers hope to bounce back in New Haven against Yale (2-3, 1-1) next Saturday.