PHILADELPHIA - Extending the nation's longest winning streak on one of the program's most emotional nights was not an easy task, but the University of Pennsylvania football team found a way to push past Lafayette Saturday night at Franklin Field, 19-14.
The night started with a 40-second moment of silence in honor of No. 40 Owen Thomas and Dan "Coach Lake" Staffieri who each passed away in April. The night ended with a victory, Penn's first in a season opener since 2006. Lafayette, which had won three straight in this series, fell to 0-2 on the year.
Much like the last three meetings between these school's, the game came down to the last play. Trailing by five, with four seconds remaining at the Penn 38-yard line, the Leopards used several laterals, and the Quakers fans held their collective breath. Ultimately, Vaughn Hebron went harmlessly out of bounds at the 15-yard line and the Quakers bounded onto the field in celebration.
It was a defensive struggle for much of the first three quarters before the Quakers' offense found its footing. The Penn defense, ranked No. 1 in the nation last season, picked up where it left off. Led by Jon Saelinger's three interceptions - one off the 70-year-old school record for interceptions in a game - the Red and Blue defense posted another shut out and have not allowed a touchdown in more than nine quarters of play. The Leopards scored two touchdowns, but one was off a blocked punt and the other an interception return for a touchdown.
The game started with a series of punts before Penn opened the scoring with a 43-yard field goal by Andrew Samson with 2:08 left in the first quarter.
On the Leopards' ensuing drive, they marched into Penn territory, only to have Saelinger pick off Marc Quilling's pass in the end zone. Lafayette's first big play came moments later when they forced the Quakers to punt and Ben Eaton broke through the line to block Scott Lopano's kick. The ball bounced away and Kyni Scott recovered it in the endzone for a touchdown. That marked the first time the Quakers had trailed in a game since Oct. 17, 2009.
The Leopards then added to their lead a minute and a half later on a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive end by Michael Phillips. Phillips anticipated a screen pass and made the athletic grab before he scampered 25 yards for six.
Penn put together a lengthy 14-play, 71-yard drive at the end of the half and Samson brought Penn back within eight when he connected on a 36-yard field goal.
Down 14-6 at the start of the second half, the Quakers offense came to life in the third quarter. Five minutes into the frame, the Red and Blue embarked on a nine-play 61-yard drive which culminated in Rangone's first career touchdown pass, a five-yard floater to the corner of the end zone which was hauled in by senior Matt Tuten. The ensuring extra point made it a one point game, 14-13.
On the next play from scrimmage, Saelinger picked off Quilling again, but the Quakers weren't able to capitalize. So Saelinger did it again. His third interception of the game came with 13:48 to go in the game and set up the game-winning drive. The Quakers started on their own 25-yard line and marched down the field. They were momentarily stalled on a fourth and one at the Lafayette 24, but instead of attempting the go-ahead field goal, sophomore quarterback Billy Ragone pushed his way across the marker for a first down. A few plays later, at the 12-yard line, sophomore running back Lyle Marsh bounced off multiple tacklers and made a last ditch dive into the endzone for the score. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful and the Quakers led 19-14 with just over six minutes left.
The Leopards tried to counter, but were stuffed on a fourth down attempt at the Penn 46 with 4:07 left. The Quakers tried to run out the clock but were forced to punt and on the ensuring Lafayette drive, Josh Powers intercepted the ball on the Lafayette 44-yard line.
However, the game was still not over. A fumbled snap gave the Leopards back the ball but the defense held one final time for the victory, leading to the wild laterals on the game's final play.
Rangone was 4-for-5 for 23 yards and touchdown in the game, while Lyle Marsh ran for 68 yards and a score. Ryan Becker added 123 yards in the air. Sophomore Brandon Colavita was impressive, carrying the ball 12 times for 65 yards. He was one of six Quakers to rush for more than 25 yards in the game. Freshman quarterback Ryan Becker finished the game 9-of-16 for 126 yards while Tuten was the leading receiver with three catches for 34 yards.
On defense, Erik Rask finished with 1.5 sacks and led the team with eight tackles, followed by the five takedowns from Brian Wing and two tallied sacks by Derric Bath. Lafayette had just eight first downs, 19 rushing yards and jsut 168 total yards of offense. In comparison, the Quakers had 21 first downs, 243 rushing yards and 392 total yards.
Next Saturday, the Quakers take on the No. 1 team in the nation when they make the short trip to the Mainline to face the Villanova Wildcats at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the Comcast Network.