WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, President Joe Biden traveled from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia, and walked down Walnut Street with a Secret Service escort. But on Saturday, it was Trey Flowers and the Penn football team that traveled from Philadelphia to Washington — and by the way they moved the ball against the Georgetown (1-5) defense, you’d think they were being protected by the Secret Service, too.
In the Quakers’ final non-conference game of the season, senior running back Flowers rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore quarterback Aidan Sayin threw for 221 yards and four touchdowns (plus a rushing score) en route to a 59-28 final score. The win gives Penn (4-0, 1-0 Ivy) its first 4-0 start since 2003, and puts the Red and Blue above last season’s win total — three games — with over half the season left to play.
Penn got off to a strong start, with its first three drives resulting in scores, including two passing touchdowns from Sayin. The Quaker defense also proved opportunistic early, with Georgetown’s first two drives resulting in turnovers.
Less than four minutes into the game and already down three, Hoyas quarterback Pierce Holley’s pass up the middle was intercepted by junior linebacker Jack Fairman, in his first career pick.
"It was pretty incredible," Fairman said. "There's been a lot of pressure all year from the D-line and everyone behind me was in great coverage," he continued. "So that was the last chance for that quarterback to make a play and he ended up throwing it right to me."
Then, just three minutes of game time and seven more Quaker points later, senior linebacker Jonathan Melvin punched the ball loose from Georgetown running back Herman Moultrie, and senior defensive back Chris Rankins recovered the ball at the Georgetown 26.
It didn’t take long for Penn to capitalize on the beneficial field position, with Sayin finding sophomore tight end Justin Cayenne on a short pass, taken 26 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the drive.
"[Georgetown] played a lot of man today and also we're just trying to get our guys out in space," Sayin said. "Our guys are playmakers [and] they're able to make make plays with the ball in their hands as long as I can get it to them in space."
However, after these first two drives, Georgetown’s offense picked up some steam, tallying 14 points in the rest of the first half, the most Penn has given up in a half all season.
The Quaker defense held firm at the end of the first half, though, when a series of Quaker penalties gave Georgetown a first-and-goal at Penn’s one-yard line. On two run plays, including a sneak by Holley, Penn’s defensive line stuffed the Hoyas, allowing the clock to hit zero on the first half with the Quaker lead still at two scores.
Opening the second half, special teams quickly became the Quakers’ kryptonite. Georgetown running back Mason Gudger ran back the opening kickoff of the third quarter for a touchdown. Later in that same quarter, Gudger ran back another kick for a score. All in all, the freshman totaled 227 return yards in Saturday’s game, and became just the fifth player in Patriot League history to have multiple kick return touchdowns in a game.
"We were a little bit overaggressive, and guys came out of their lanes, which opened up a huge void," coach Ray Priore said about the special teams unit. "We got to clean that up, so it's something to work on this week."
But the Quakers were no slouch in the return game, either. Led by senior running back Jonathan Mulatu and his 100 return yards, the Quaker offense started many drives with excellent field position, aiding the offense in its 59-point output.
Penn’s defense remained staunch in the second half, allowing no scores by the Hoyas. One key moment occurred on a fourth down from Penn's eight yard line, when Holley threw an incomplete pass, turning the ball back over to the Quakers.
"Earlier in the game on their second touchdown, we were in the same coverage and we didn't have a QB spy, and he was allowed to run around for a while," Fairman said. "Our adjustment [was that] I could stay back in there and the second he got out, I'll go at him and force the throw."
But it was the offense that won Penn this game. Its 59 points were the most scored by the program since September 2017, and marks a significant change of pace for a team that totaled 12 and 10 points in its last two contests (excluding the two overtimes at Dartmouth).
"There's a new coordinator and it takes a little bit of time," Priore said in regard to the team's growth in its first season under offensive coordinator Dan Swanstrom. "It seemed like today we just hit on all cylinders."
The Quakers will return to Franklin Field and Ivy League play next Saturday at 1 p.m. against the Columbia Lions (3-1, 0-1).