On Saturday afternoon, Fossil Free Penn wasn’t the only thing slowing down Yale.
The Quaker defense was ferocious, holding Yale to only 10 first downs and 13 points in a 20-13 win that moves Penn to 6-0 and 3-0 in Ivy League play. With 24 seconds left, senior running back Jonathan Mulatu surged into the end zone to put the Quakers ahead and seal this one for the Red and Blue.
While the Penn offense was largely ineffective for much of the game, it took advantage of short fields when it mattered most to outlast Yale (4-2, 2-1) on Homecoming weekend.
For much of the first half, it was a defensive struggle. Penn’s defense held the Bulldogs to only 24 yards of total offense in the first quarter, but the offense could only manage three points on a Graham Gotlieb field goal.
On the first few drives, the Bulldog front was able to get consistent pressure on sophomore quarterback Aidan Sayin, but afterwards the play calling changed to more screens and short passes. Sophomore wide receiver Julien Stokes was able to take a few short passes, including a slant, for big gains.
But with just a few minutes left in the second quarter, Yale running back Joshua Pitsenberger broke through the Quaker defense and ran down the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown run. The next Penn drive resulted in a three and out, and the Quakers were forced to punt the ball back to Yale, who fielded the kick at their own 42-yard line with 43 seconds left in the half.
However, the Quakers didn’t have to wait long for the game to move their way. After Yale quarterback Nolan Grooms dropped back to pass on first down, his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by senior linebacker Jake Heimlicher.
"I'm giving all the credit to Joey Slackman, who batted the ball up in the air," Heimlicher said. "I was lucky enough just to be there and make the play when I needed to."
On the very next play, Sayin delivered a strike to senior wideout Malone Howley at the Yale three-yard line. A few plays later, Sayin connected with senior wide receiver Rory Starkey for a touchdown to even the game at 10-10 before the half, one of his nine receptions on 17 targets for the day.
"The game plan did involve my position a little bit more than usual," Starkey said of his role in the game. "But it still played out that way just based on what they were giving us in terms of their coverage and defense."
While the Quakers seemingly had all the momentum going into halftime, they would have to wait longer than usual to capitalize on it. During halftime proceedings, a group of protestors affiliated with Fossil Free Penn stormed the field and had to be escorted off by police, nearly an hour later. By the time the third quarter began, it was nearly 90 minutes since a play had been run, and the crowd at Franklin Field had thinned out considerably.
"We know [we're] going to get back out there at some point in time," coach Ray Priore said of the delay. "We get them off their feet and get their gear off … [and] we load them up with as much sugar as we could to get those juices flowing again."
Despite the extended break, the Quaker offense came out sharp to start the third quarter. A pair of strong drives, sandwiched between a three and out, took them deep into Yale territory, but on the first drive, they had to settle for a field goal.
It was in the second half when offensive coordinator Dan Swanstrom and the rest of the Penn coaching staff really opened up the playbook. Near the end of the third quarter, Penn executed a double pass trick play where junior defensive back Maurcus McDaniel, who saw some action at quarterback last season, caught a lateral from Sayin and threw it to senior running back Jonathan Mulatu for a 27-yard gain.
"Sometimes when you're really athletic and you run to the ball like they were doing, we just knew we could get them to over-pursue," Priore said. "Our coaches did a good job of watching tape and playing to what they saw with their aggressiveness."
But the offense stalled out again in the red zone, forcing Penn to attempt a field goal on fourth and goal. And continuing a trend of miscues which lasted all game, the kick was blocked, keeping the Quaker lead at three.
Despite this, the defense held firm, and gave the ball back to Sayin and the rest of the Quaker offense the ball with 5:14 left in the game after Yale turned the ball over on downs. They methodically drove down the field, forcing Yale to burn all three timeouts.
And on second and goal with 24 seconds remaining, Mulatu punched it in from the one-yard line to give the Quakers a seven-point lead. While Yale did get one last chance to make something happen, it was unable to deliver, with time running out after Grooms completed a checkdown to Mason Shipp.