PRINCETON, N.J. – With first-place on the line and the University of Pennsylvania football team trailing by seven midway through the fourth quarter, the Quakers once again rallied in dramatic fashion and topped Princeton, 28-21, Saturday afternoon at Princeton Stadium.
Senior defensive end C.J. Mooney tied the game, 21-21, with his 15-yard interception return at the 7:31 mark of the fourth quarter. A short while later, senior quarterback Billy Ragone capped his eighth career game-winning drive - and third this season (all Ivy games) - with a three-yard rush to put Penn up 28-21 with 2:59 left. Then with Princeton facing a 3rd-and-goal with 30 seconds left, senior Steve Lias poked the ball loose and senior captain Brandon Copeland fell on the fumble to seal the victory.
With the win, Penn (4-4, 4-1 Ivy) is tied atop the Ivy League with Harvard (7-1, 4-1 Ivy). The two teams play next week on national television (NBC Sports) at Franklin Field. The winner clinches a share of the 2012 Ivy League championship. Princeton fell one-game back in the Ivy race and is now 4-4 overall and 3-2 in league play.
Penn led 14-13 at the half, but Princeton took the lead with a 21-yard touchdown pass at the 6:46 mark of the third quarter. The Tigers converted on a two-point conversion to go up, 21-14.
The score remained that way into the fourth quarter when Penn’s defense came up with two game-changing plays. The first happened after Princeton’s offense drove seven plays down to the Penn 27. But the Quakers got their boost from senior defensive back Dave Twamley, who found himself in the right place at the right time, picking off a pass in the end zone with 8:59 left for the first interception of his career.
Although Penn couldn’t capitalize, they found some momentum. The next big play for the Quaker defense came a few minutes later. Senior defensive end Daniel Ritt tipped a Princeton pass and Mooney picked off the fluttering ball, taking it back for the score. The play resulted in Mooney’s first career interception and first career touchdown, as well as Penn’s first defensive score of the year. That knotted the game at 21-21.
The Quakers defense then forced a three-and-out. Ragone and the offense started from their own 42 with 6:31 to play. Among the 10-play drive were a pair of first-down runs by Ragone that got the ball inside the Princeton 5. On second-and-goal, Ragone rolled to his left, found open space and scooted into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 2:59 to play.
Princeton started at its own 28 and worked the ball into Penn territory. On 4th-and-4 from the Penn 34 with just over a minute to play, the Tigers converted with a 12-yard completion. The next play - a 14-yard completion - set up first-and-goal. A two-yard rush and an incompletion brought up third down. That's when Lias forced the fumble and Copeland collapsed on the loose ball.
The beginning of the game was just as back and forth as the end.
After a strong start to the game, forcing the Tigers to punt after their opening drive, the Quakers, led by senior running back Jeff Jack, were able to take the early 7-0 lead. Penn drove the ball down deep into Princeton territory and was forced into a third-and-long situation. Jack took the handoff up the middle and ran 17 yards for the score, to cap off the 10-play, 70-yard drive. The score was Jack’s third of the season and seventh of his career.
With just over 10 minutes remaining in the second, a Penn miscue - a receiver fell down at the end of his route - ended in a Ragone interception. Princeton proceeded to drive 24 yards in six plays in just under three minutes, ending in a pop-up for a touchdown.
On Princeton's next drive, the Tigers converted on a 4th-and-2 with a short pass that went all 30 yards for the score. After a fumbled snap botched the extra point, Princeton took the lead 13-7 at the 4:45 mark of the second half.
Sophomore Eric Fiore gave the Quakers a big boost with a 53-yard return on the ensuing kickoff. Seven plays later, Ragone tossed a throwback pass to wide-open sophomore tight end Ryan O’Malley with 1:34 left until the half.
Penn was able to sneak into the locker room with a 14-13 lead over Princeton when junior linebacker David Park blocked the Tigers' 32-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
Princeton took the lead back in the third quarter, but it only served to set up Penn's third fourth-quarter comeback this season. The Quakers rallied to win from 10 down in the final eight minutes against Columbia on Oct. 13, and from three down in the final four minutes to top Brown in regulation last week.
The win is head coach Al Bagnoli’s 140th at Penn, which ties him for second-most by any coach at an Ivy League school. Penn is also 8-1 all-time in the 15-year history of Princeton Stadium.
Senior Lyle Marsh had 104 rush yards on just 19 carries. It is Penn's first 100-yard rusher since Brandon Colavita had 156 at Yale on Oct. 22, 2011. It was his second career 100-yard game and first since he had 120 at Darmouth during his freshman campaign (Oct. 9, 2009).
Ragone finished with 92 pass yards and 61 rush yards. Junior Ty Taylor had a team-high three catches for 19 yards. Marsh added two catches for 22 yards. In addition to his touchdown, Jack had 50 yards on eight carries.
Penn's defense forced four turnovers for the second straight week. The Quakers had forced a combined three turnovers in their first six games. Senior cornerback Dan Wilk and sophomore safety Mike Laning led the Quakers with 10 tackles apiece - a career-high for both.
Penn and Harvard kick off at noon
Saturday on NBC Sports with the Ivy League title on the line. This will
mark the 11th time in the last 13 seasons in which the Ivy League title
will be decided between the Quakers and Crimson on the season's second
to last weekend.