PHILADELPHIA - It was another agonizing near-miss for the University of Pennsylvania football team against cross-city rival Villanova Saturday night. The Wildcats ran back an interception for a touchdown in the final seconds to top the Quakers, 30-21 at Franklin Field.
Penn fell to 0-2 for the first time since 2009 - when they won the Ivy title with eight straight wins to end the season. The Wildcats, who served as the home team at Franklin Field, moved to 1-3 on the year.
Six of the last eight meetings between these two teams have been decided in the final minutes and the 2011 edition of the Schuylkill Showdown was no different.
Penn was down 23-21 with under a minute remaining and deep in their own territory when - for the second time that night - Villanova returned an interception for a touchdown to extend Penn's 100-year drought against their Philadelphia counterparts.
Penn was first on the board Saturday night, thanks to the defense. Chris Culicerto’s pass at the Villanova 22-yard line was intercepted by senior Jason Schmucker at the 34 and returned 20 yards to the Wildcats 14-yard line. From there, Penn needed just five plays to score, as Brandon Colavita bulled it in from a yard away with 6:57 left in the first quarter.
Villanova immediately came back with its first first-half points this season. The Wildcats covered 41 yards in eight plays, and after they were stopped at Penn’s 25 they settled for a 42-yard field goal that Mark Hamilton knocked between the uprights.
Villanova took the lead on just the second play of the second quarter, as Culicerto found Dorian Wells over the middle and the receiver outraced the Penn defense to the end zone. The play went for 54 yards and put Villanova up, 10-7.
Penn regained the lead midway through the quarter, thanks mostly to its own big play – a 44-yard rush by Colavita. That put the ball on Villanova’s 17-yard line, and two plays later Jeff Jack went around the left side almost untouched for the score.
The Red and Blue went into the locker room with a one-point lead, 14-13, after Villanova tacked on a late field goal.
Penn's second half was filled with bad breaks. Junior Lyle Marsh fumbled on Penn's promising opening drive and Villanova capitalized with a 55-yard drive that ended in the go-ahead field goal with 5:59 left in the third.
A few minutes later, junior quarterback Billy Ragone's pass bounced of the foot of senior Ryan Calvert and right into the arms of Villanova's James Pitts, who waltzed into the end zone for a 23-14 advantage.
At the 10-minute mark of the fourth, Penn's luck started to turn and the Quakers pulled to within a pair following a bizarre sequence. Ragone's pass was intercepted. But the Wildcats were called for roughing the passer, giving Penn the ball back and a first down. On that same play, at the end of the interception, Villanova was called for another personal foul, meaning instead of a back-breaking interception, Penn gained 25 yards in penalties and had first-and-goal at the 10.
The next play resulted in Calvert's first career touchdown catch.
Both teams punted and Villanova got the ball back with just under six minutes to play. They drained the clock to 1:21 and pinned Penn at its own four.
The Quakers were at their own 17 when Ragone's receiver fell down and the Wildcats sealed the game with the interception return with 12 seconds remaining.
Ragone finished with his first career 200-yard passing game. He was 15-of-26 for 250 yards and a touchdown. Colavita finished just shy of his fourth career 100-yard rushing performance with 92 yards on 19 carries. Calvert had a career-best four catches for 57 yards, junior Jason Seifert had a career high four catches for 30 yards and junior Tommy Eggleston had his first three career catches for 87 yards.
Senior Matt Hamscher had a collegiate-best 12 tackles to lead the Quakers. Copeland finished with nine tackles and a sack, while linebacker Erik Rask totaled a season-best eight tackles and a half sack to go along with two pass breakups.
It will be another tough night test for the Quakers next week. Penn will be the opponent at the first-ever night game in Dartmouth's Memorial Stadium. Kick off is slated for 6 p.m. in Hanover.