For three quarters on Saturday, the Bulldogs dominated Penn on both sides of the ball and seemed poised to snap the Quakers’ 17-game Ivy League win streak.
Then everything fell apart in the fourth quarter.
Down by 10 points heading into the final quarter, Penn (4–2, 3–0 Ivy) scored four unanswered touchdowns in just under 10 minutes and handed the Elis (3–3, 2–1) their third loss, 37–25, on the road this year. The Bulldogs have not won against Penn since 2007, when they edged the Quakers 26–20 in triple overtime. Yale is now tied with Brown for second place in the Ancient Eight, while Penn and Harvard remain on top with undefeated league records.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 said. “I’d like to think that two scores going into one quarter would last a little longer than it did.”
While the Quakers racked up 234 yards on offense during the first half, the Blue and White defense held them to just a single field goal by halftime. Penn wasted two scoring opportunities in the second quarter against a suffocating Yale front seven.
Will McHale ’13 and Matt Battaglia ’12 pressured backup quarterback Ryan Becker into throwing back-to-back incompletions on second and third downs. The Quakers then attempted a 50-yard field goal against the wind, which fell short of the goalpost.
After forcing a quick three and out on the ensuing drive by the Elis, Penn drove all the way to the Bulldogs’ 4-yard line. But a sack by Pat Moran ’12 moved the Quakers back to the 11-yard line. On the next play, Battaglia tackled quarterback Billy Ragone a yard short of the end zone, and the Bulldogs’ defensive line stuffed Ragone’s fourth-down sneak for no gain.
A defensive stop also set up the Elis’ lone score of the first half.
Safety Geoff Dunham ’12 intercepted a tipped pass, his first of the season, and took the ball to Penn’s 47-yard line. Five plays later, Witt found an open Chris Smith ’13 in the middle of the field for the Bulldogs’ first touchdown of the game.
“We knew that they would have a hard time defending [Smith] if we could protect the ball and throw it down the field,” head coach Tom Williams said.
Witt connected with Smith again in the third quarter with a 60-yard strike that put the Elis ahead 20–10. The junior wideout ran down the right sideline and strode untouched into the end zone for his second score of the game. Smith finished the day with six catches for 148 yards.
“Overall, I think our offense played great,” Witt said. “We walked up and down the field pretty much with ease. We ran the ball very well and were physical at the point of attack.”
Unlike last week’s loss to Lafayette, the Bulldogs were able to balance their passing offense with a strong ground game on Saturday.
Alex Thomas ’12 carried the ball 30 times for a career-high 204 yards and scored his third rushing touchdown of the year. Penn’s run defense has not allowed a 200-yard rusher since 1997.
“We felt like we have a good running offense,” Williams said. “[Running the ball] was something we were going to try to do, and we were able to do that effectively. That sets up the play action game and allows us to throw the ball down field.”
However, Penn’s offense ultimately proved to be too much for the Bulldogs to handle, garnering 552 yards over the course of the game, 285 of which came on the ground. Its stunning fourth-quarter comeback started with the first drive of the fourth quarter. Ragone faked a handoff to running back Brandon Colavita and caught the Bulldogs off guard. The junior quarterback ran up the middle of the field for 40 yards and threw for a touchdown on the very next play.
The Quakers surprised the Elis again on the ensuing kickoff. Kicker Connor Loftus kicked the ball sky high toward the right sideline to neutralize the Bulldogs’ dangerous return game, but before any Blue and White players could make a play, Kyle Wilcox dove to recover the ball inside Yale territory.
Three plays later, Ragone opted for another play fake but found no open receivers. Instead, he rolled out to his right and shook off several defenders to reach the end zone, pulling Penn ahead 23–20. Ragone finished the game with 330 total yards and four touchdowns.
“We knew he was capable of making those types of plays with his legs,” Williams said. “He’s evasive. He made some guys miss and he had some good runs.”
After Philippe Panico ’13 tied the game at 23 apiece with a field goal, Ragone struck again with a 20-yard touchdown throw to Calvert in the corner of the end zone.
On the following kickoff, Penn cornerback Sebastian Jaskowski forced a fumble to give the Quakers possession of the football. Three plays later on third and inches, Colavita took advantage of an unguarded perimeter and dashed 25 yards down the left sideline to put Penn up 37–23.
“It was frustrating for [the offense] to be on the sideline,” Witt said. “To just have to stand there and watch it happen is so frustrating because we are ready to go back out there and put some more points on the board, and we can’t even do so.”
The Yale offense also lost three of its starters throughout the course of the game. Starting right tackle Roy Collins ’13 went down in the first quarter with an apparent ankle injury. Thomas, who had 87 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, limped off the field on the Bulldogs’ second-to-last drive.
But the biggest blow to the Elis came when Smith reaggravated a pulled hamstring that he sustained against Cornell during the third quarter. Without the speedy receiver to stretch the defense, Penn’s secondary gave Witt little options downfield, which allowed the Quakers’ front seven to pressure the Yale signal caller in the second half.
“With him at the quarterback, if you give him all day, he’s just going to pick you apart,” Penn captain and linebacker Erik Rask said. “So our goal was to bring a lot of pressure and … for [the] most part in the second half, we did a pretty good job of that.”
Witt finished the game with 15 completions on 29 attempts for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
Still without a win on the road, the Bulldogs will travel to New York on Saturday to take on the winless Columbia Lions.
“There is no time to feel sorry for yourself,” Williams said. “We got four more league games to go. You feel bad for 24 hours and you go back to work. And that’s what we plan to do.”