Get used to the quarterback wearing No. 4 for Penn football — he has a name we might be sayin’ for a while.
Making only his second collegiate start, freshman Aidan Sayin broke out against the Brown Bears at Franklin Field, leading an offense that couldn’t be stopped, as the Quakers (3-4, 1-3 Ivy) routed the Bears (2-5, 1-3) by a score of 45-17. Sayin completed 11 of 16 passes for 97 yards and two scores.
It was clear from the very first drive that it was going to be a tough day to stop the Quakers. The Red and Blue marched down the field in eight plays, capped off by a touchdown pass to a wide-open Ryan Cragun in the back of the end zone.
Sayin played well on the drive, completing all but one of his passes and looking cool in the pocket all throughout. Even though he is a true freshman — the first to start at quarterback for Penn since Alek Torgersen in 2013 — it would be easy to mistake him for a seasoned veteran. In these unusual times, being a freshman might actually be advantageous for Sayin, as he played high school football last fall in a competitive California conference, whereas most of his opponents were on the bench, as the Ivy League season was canceled due to COVID-19.
"Aidan's just a very mature kid," Penn coach Ray Priore said. "He's got that poise and that charisma, and that way about him where he just plays. Some people have to think about it, but [for him] it's just natural."
While the Quakers might have a quarterback of the future, the Bears still have one with a storied past in EJ Perry, and he responded quickly. Perry, who is the nephew of Brown coach James Perry and also plays on Brown’s basketball team, led the Bears on a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that included a conversion. As he capped off the drive with a touchdown strike, he moved into third place on Brown’s all-time leaderboard.
"EJ is a very talented young man, we watched him through this early part of the season," Priore said. "With his feet and his arms he was a threat. I think the most important step is that we sacked him many times."
In a somewhat surprising move, Brown proceeded to attempt an onside kick after scoring, which was swiftly recovered by Penn. Brown would do this once more later in the game. The Bears likely figured that since the Red and Blue offense had been so hard to stop, they did not mind giving up the field position for a chance to keep the ball out of Sayin’s hands.
After the kickoff, Sayin found Cragun for a 20-yard completion, and then handed off to graduate student running back Isaiah Malcome, who took it 45 yards for a house call. This marked the fifth straight game that Malcome had found the end zone on the ground. Malcome finished with nine carries for 121 yards — a staggering 13.4 average — and found paydirt twice.
After forcing a quick three and out, the Quakers got going again on offense. Leading another long drive, Sayin led the Quakers to the end zone when he hit sophomore wide receiver Joshua Casilli on the run in the endzone for the first touchdown catch of Casilli's career, midway through the second quarter.
"We actually messed the protection up, but got outside, just saw my guy Josh Casilli in the back of the endzone, gave him a shot, and it was there," Sayin said. "I've worked on that throw, worked on it plenty of times."
While Penn’s offense was clearly hot in the first half, so was the defense, which played a bend-but-don’t-break game. Linebacker Jake Heimlicher led the way with three sacks in the first half, continuing a good senior season for the Colorado native. The Red and Blue twice picked off Perry this afternoon, including one that senior Garrett Morris ran back for six, and one by Jason “Paul” McCleod in the endzone that killed a threatening Brown drive.
The Quakers also made big plays on special teams, including a blocked field goal as the first half expired. All in all, Penn held a Brown offense that was averaging 32 point per game to just 17, seven of which came in garbage time.
The second half was less eventful than the first, although Penn scored twice, with short rushing touchdowns from freshman Julien Stokes — the first of his career — and senior Trey Flowers.
Senior wide receiver Owen Goldsberry, who came into Saturday leading the Ivy League with his kickoff return average, continued to prove that he can do it all this afternoon, catching three passes and throwing one too, a 30-yard bomb to Cragun.
Because the Ancient Eight sat last year out, this was Penn’s first Ivy League victory in 714 days. Another drought that long anytime soon would be truly shocking.
The last time these two teams met, the result was a little different, as it was a nail-biter that ended with a Penn victory off the foot of kicker Daniel Karrash. While Quaker Nation is probably breathing a sigh of relief that the Red and Blue got out of this one more easily, they will be hoping that the aftermath can be similar: The victory in 2019 ignited Penn’s season, starting a three-game winning streak.
"Any victory is great, a league win," Priore said. "This is a great energy we can build up into our last weeks of conference."
Penn has three games left to continue to salvage its season, starting Saturday, Nov. 6 against Cornell (1-6, 0-4) in Penn's Homecoming Game.