Highlights: Marsh's First TD | Marsh's Second TD | Marsh's One-Handed Grab | Ragone Rushing TD
EASTON, Pa. - Hard to imagine a scenario where a team could turn the ball over eight times in the course of a game and still come within 50 yards of sending the ballgame to overtime, but that is just what the University of Pennsylvania football team endured in Saturday night's season opener at Lafayette. The final turnover - an interception near midfield with 1:19 remaining - sealed the Leopards' 28-21 victory at Fisher Stadium.
Penn (0-1) trailed 21-0 before the first quarter was over, threw seven interceptions over the course of the game and fumbled at the Lafayette 1-yard line in the fourth quarter.
But, despite all that, shortly after senior quarterback Billy Ragone's 1-yard touchdown run pulled the Quakers within 28-21 with 5:24 to play, the Penn defense came up with another big stop and gave the Red and Blue a chance to tie the game.
The Quakers took over at their own 20 with 2:30 to play. Senior quarterback Andrew Holland, who finished with a career and team-high 18 completions and 191 passing yards, connected with junior wideout Conner Scott for two first downs on the first two plays of the drive. But three plays later, the final interception of the game - at the Lafayette 38-yard line - sealed the season-opening loss for Penn.
The Quakers outgained Lafayette by nearly 200 yards (423-236) on the night and had nearly twice as many first downs (25-13). But five of Penn's first six possessions ended in interceptions, including all four first-quarter trips.
At the start, Penn looked sharp during its first couple plays with a pair of first downs. But in a sign of things to come, Ragone's next pass deflected off Scott and landed in the hands of a Leopard. It was returned to the Penn 14 and Lafayette (2-0) found the end zone four plays later.
On the second play of Penn's next drive, Ragone's pass was intercepted in midstride and taken back 31 yards for a 14-0 Lafayette lead less than five minutes into the contest.
Ragone had the Quakers moving again on the ensuing possession, but at midfield, Lafayette stepped in front of another Penn pass. Six plays later, the home team held a 21-0 lead at the 1:25 mark of the opening quarter.
Two of the next three possessions ended in similar fashion for the Quakers. The Penn defense held after both those interceptions and the offense got on the board on its final drive of the half. Starting from their own 34, Ragone and the Quakers went 66 yards in 12 plays - the last of which was a four-yard touchdown pass from Ragone to senior running back Lyle Marsh. The score pulled Penn within 21-7 heading into the locker room.
In the final minutes of the third quarter, another promising drive ended in a turnover when the Leopards picked off Ragone at the Lafayette 12-yard line. It didn't take long for the hosts to capitalize. The Leopards took a 28-7 lead when a 36-yard pass play was immediatley followed by a 26-yard touchdown pass.
Holland marched the Quakers down the field in response. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Holland threw the first touchdown pass of his career with a 12-yard pass-and-catch to Marsh. That pulled the Red and Blue back to within two touchdowns, 28-14, with a full quarter to play.
Moments later, sophomore Kevin Ijoma hauled in an interception and returned it to the Lafayette 34-yard line. After a big third-down conversion, the Quakers looked to have momentum again, but it was stopped by the most heartbreaking turnover of the night. Holland connected with junior Ryan Mitchell on a deep pass down the middle, but the ball popped out at the goal line and was ruled a fumble. Lafayette recovered in the end zone for a touchback to stifle the drive.
Penn, however, remained poised. After forcing a three-and-out, Holland had the Quakers on the move again. The Red and Blue were near the red zone in just four plays. Holland then extended the drive with two game-saving fourth down conversions - the first was aided by a diving one-handed grab from Marsh for five yards and the second was a three-yard strike to Scott inside the one-yard line. That set up Ragone's rushing touchdown.
Scott finished with 12 catches to tie for third-most in a single-game at Penn. It also marked the most catches for a Quaker since Dan Castles caught a dozen on Oct. 10, 2004 against Bucknell. Scott's 161 receiving yards ranks 10th in the single-game school record book and marks the most since Castles had 204 against Cornell on Nov. 22, 2003.
Marsh set career highs with eight receptions and 66 receiving yards in addition to the first two receiving touchdowns of his career.
In all, the Quakers threw for 344 yards compared to Lafayette's 134. It was Penn's most productive day through the air since accumulating 355 pass yards in a double overtime loss at Princeton in 2006.
Defensively, junior Sebastian Jaskowski matched a career high with a team-best 11 tackles. Senior Brandon Copeland added seven tackles and junior Dan Wilk tied his personal best with six tackles. Wilk and Ijoma each recorded the first interception of their careers.
The Quakers will look to rebound next week in their home opener versus Villanova. The 2012 edition of the Schuylkill Showdown against their cross-city rival begins at 3:30 p.m. and will air on the Comcast Network.