PHILADELPHIA, PA 11/9/2103 – It looked early on that the University of Pennsylvania Quakers were going to get the bounce-back victory they needed in order to stay in contention for the Ivy League championship. The Quakers went out to a quick lead and were winning the field position battle. That disappeared as the arch-rival Princeton Tigers grabbed the momentum and went on to a 38 – 26 victory at Franklin Field on Homecoming Day at Penn. The Tigers are 5 – 0 in conference and sit alone in first place in the league. Al Bagnoli, Coach of the Red and Blue, said that mistakes were the Quakers undoing.
We knew we were not going to able to make too many mistakes,” Bagnoli said. “In the first half we made one or two, enough that it didn’t drown us. In the second half we played with great effort, but made a lot of mistakes. Against a good team, an efficient team, an explosive team, you just can’t do that. And that was ultimately our demise.”
Mistakes that resulted in 6 turnovers by Penn who lost 3 fumbles and senior quarterback Billy Ragone threw 3 interceptions. The first fumble came at the Princeton 27 yard line in the first quarter. After a Princeton score Penn fumbled on the ensuing possession near midfield. The third turnover was the most costly as Ragone at the Princeton 33 was picked-off by Tigers linebacker Elijah Mitchell who returned the ball 59 yards for a touchdown that erased the Penn lead as the tigers went ahead 17 – 16 with 1:24 to play in the first half. Turnovers gave Princeton possession and the Tigers responded by converting 13 of 24 third down conversions and had the ball nearly 13 minutes more than the Quakers. With the extra time Princeton had 96 offensive plays to 65. Quarterback Quinn Epperly ran for 53 yards, 2 rushing touchdowns, and completed 32 of 45 passes for 268 yards and 2 touchdowns. Wide Receiver Roman Wilson caught 12 balls for 68 yards.
“We made mistakes,” said Bagnoli. “We gave them short fields. They are playing at a very high level. If you play any good team and you turn the ball over six times, it’s hard to win the game. It’s that simple. They protected the ball much better than we protected the ball, especially in the second half when the game was on the line.”
The first quarter was all Penn. They started all of their drives in Princeton territory. However, it was the defense that was doing the scoring. At the 8:37 mark Princeton was called for holding in the endzone resulting in a safety and a 2 – 0 lead for the Red and Blue. Later in the opening quarter senior defensive back Sam Chwarzynski intercepted a pass from Epperly returning it 61 yards for a touchdown giving the Red and Blue a 9-point advantage. The offense got into gear on the ground. A 44 yard run by junior running back Spencer Kulcsar set up a 6 yard touchdown run by junior running back Kyle Wilcox and a 16 – 0 Penn lead with 12:16 remaining to halftime.
The momentum changed as Princeton put together back to back touchdowns on a 10 yard reception by wide receiver Seth DeValve and a 27 yard field goal by kicker Nolan Bieck. The Tigers would take the lead on the Mitchell pick-six.
Penn responded by going on a 5 play, 72 yard drive in 1:06 capped by a 34 yard touchdown pass from Ragone to senior wide receiver Ryan Mitchell giving the Red and Blue a 23 – 17 lead going into the locker room.
“Our guys believe that if we just keep playing eventually we will get this game back to management,” said Princeton Coach Bob Surace. “There was no panic. We use the phrase ‘hold the rope.’ Against Penn you’re not going to walk in and score 35 points.”
The second half belonged to Princeton as Epperly completed a long third quarter drive of 15 plays covering 62 yards in 5:20 with a 2 yard touchdown run. Early in the fourth quarter Princeton turned an interception into a 7 play, 46 yard drive in 2:12 to lead 31 – 23.
Penn took over at their 10 yard line and drove to the Princeton 10, but had to settle for a 28 yard field goal by junior kicker Connor Loftus to get to within 31 – 26 at the 9:37 mark. That would be the only points Penn would score in the second half.
“We were happy to be up 16,” Ragone said. “We put them in position to score too many times. They have a great offense and we gave them six extra possessions. We were happy with where we were, but we didn’t finish the deal.”
The Tigers out the game away on 14 yard touchdown pass from Epperly to wide receiver Connor Kelley to remain undefeated in the Ancient Eight. Princeton has their eye on an Ivy Title after being 1- 9 just two years ago.
“We feel that we are trying to rise from the bottom,” said Mitchell. “We’re not done. This feels amazing, but we also feel that what we are trying to accomplish has not been done yet.”
Princeton ended a 6-game Penn winning streak in the series and puts the Red and Blue 2 games behind in the standings with 2 games left to play. The Quakers can get a share of the Ivy Title, but they must win the rest of the games and get help. It does not look promising. Penn takes on Harvard in Boston on November 16.
“We won’t fold up the tents,” said Ragone. “We’ll play hard for the next couple of games and go out on a high note.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian
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