PHILADELPHIA - With the top spot in the Ivy league up for grabs and the largest Homecoming crowd since 1995 on hand, the University of Pennsylvania football team lost a wild game to archrival Princeton, 38-26, on Saturday at Franklin Field.
Penn lost to Princeton for the first time since 2006 and fell to 4-4 on the year and 3-2 in the Ivy League. The Tigers remain the only unbeaten team in Ivy play this year and improved to 7-1 overall and 5-0 against the Ancient Eight. Penn is two games out of first with two games to play.
It was an entertaining game from the start for the 21,214 in attendance. It got off to a strange start as the first two scoring plays came courtesy of the Penn defense.
The scoring began when Princeton quarterback Quinn Epperly dropped back to pass in his own endzone. His pass landed incomplete, but a Tigers holding penalty in the endzone awarded the Quakers a safety and a 2-0 lead at the 8:37 mark of the opening quarter.
It wouldn’t be long before the Penn defense struck again, bringing a solid Princeton drive to a crashing halt as senior Sam Chwarzynski picked off a deflected pass and brought it 61 yards the other way for a touchdown. It gave Penn a 9-0 lead with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
Princeton had entered the game with the third-highest scoring offense in the nation, but through the first quarter, the Penn defense had outscored the Tigers offense, 9-0.
The Red and Blue's offense got into the scoring next. Junior Spencer Kulcsar took a handoff 49 yards up the right sideline to move the Quakers inside the ten. Just one play later, junior Kyle Wilcox ran it in from six yards out to expand Penn's lead to 16-0 with 12:16 left in the half.
Princeton answered right back though, utilizing an eight-play, 71-yard drive to get on the board for the first time. After an Epperly touchdown pass, the Tigers proceeded to convert a 2-point conversion, cutting the Penn lead in half.
It was the start of 17 unanswered points for Princeton, as a field goal and an interception return for a touchdown gave them a 17-16 lead.
But not to be outdone, senior Billy Ragone, who made his first start after missing three games with an ankle injury, led the Quakers on an impressive five-play, 72-yard drive topped off with a 34-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Ryan Mitchell with just 12 seconds remaining in the half. That gave the Quakers a 23-17 lead at the break.
The play was not only huge in respect to the game, but also to the Penn record books. On the drive, Ragone became just the third quarterback in program history to surpass 5,000 career pass yards.
After the break, Princeton was quick to respond to Penn’s last-second strike. The Tigers utilized a strong passing game and a pair of goal line rushes to score two touchdowns and take a 31-23 lead with 13:10 to play.
The Quakers cut the lead to five on a Connor Loftus 28-yard field goal with 9:37 remaining. However, a few key third-down conversions propelled a 12-play, 63-yard drive which was capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Epperly to Connor Kelley. With just 4:45 to go, that effectively sealed the game for the Tigers.
Ragone ended his day 10-of-31 for 168 yards and a touchdown pass. Mitchell led all Penn receivers with two catches for 55 yards and a score. Conner Scott had three receptions for 28 yards. The Quakers ran the ball effectively, with Wilcox (89) and Kulcsar (83) combining for 169 yards on 29 carries.
Defensively, senior Dan Wilk recorded his 100th career tackle and finished with a team-high 10, including seven solo. Junior Mike Laning also had 10 tackles, while Evan Jackson added nine. Junior Jimmy Wagner had Penn's only sack and senior David Park had a career-best 3.5 tackles for loss.
The Quakers honored five different Ivy League championship teams that were all celebrating anniversaries this year (1983, 1988, 1993, 1998, 2003). Penn has won 16 Ivy titles in its history - second-most all-time.
Next up is a nationally televised showdown at Harvard. The Quakers kick off at noon on NBC Sports.