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PHILADELPHIA - Trailing by 10 with under 10 minutes to play, the University of Pennyslvania football team scored twice in the final 7:27, including Billy Ragone's game-winning touchdown pass to Lyle Marsh with 50 seconds remaining to top Columbia, 24-20, at Franklin Field on Saturday afternoon.
Ragone engineered his sixth career comeback in the fourth quarter or overtime and junior Dan Wilk made the game-saving tackle at the three-yard line as time expired.
Penn improved to 2-3 overall and 2-0 in the Ivy League with its 16th straight win over Columbia - the FCS' longest active annual winning streak over an opponent. The Lions (1-4, 0-2 Ivy) have not defeated the Quakers since 1996.
But they came close for a second consecutive year. Last season, Ragone broke a 20-20 tie at Kraft Field with the seven-yard game-winning touchdown run with 25 seconds left. This year, it was an even steeper hill to climb.
The Lions went up by 10 with 10:57 remaining on a 31-yard touchdown run by Marcorous Garrett - his second of the day. But Ragone led a hurry-up offense 86 yards in just 3:30 to pull within 20-17 with 7:27 to play. The drive nearly stalled at the Columbia 35-yard line before Ragone found Marsh for 16 yards to convert a 4th-and-7. Two plays later, Ragone sailed a pass up the seam, over the Lions defense and into the hands of tight end Mitchell King for a 16-yard touchdown - the first catch of King's collegiate career.
After a pair of punts, the Lions started from their own six-yard line with 4:09 to go. But the defense forced another punt and Quakers took over at their own 38 with just 2:26 remaining and one timeout. On 3rd-and-9 from the Columbia 41, Ragone connected with Marsh again - this time for 23 yards down to the Columbia 18-yard line.
Senior Jeff Jack rushed for seven yards and Ragone hit Marsh for five yards for 1st-and-Goal at the Columbia six with one minute left. Two plays later, Ragone scrambled to his left and lofted a pass to the back corner of the end zone. Marsh was there for the catch and the Quakers led, 24-20.
Columbia wasn't done. They started from their own 25 and marched down to the Penn 19 with 12 seconds left. The Lions took two shots at the end zone. The first pass fell incomplete. On the final play of the game, Brackett was pressured and threw across the field where Hamilton Garner caught the ball at the two-yard line. The only Penn player in the area was Wilk, who wrapped Garner up and sealed the win for the Quakers.
The first half was not a precursor to the second-half drama. The teams combined for 10 punts and just nine points. After a scoreless opening quarter, senior Andrew Holland took over for a series at quarterback for the Quakers. His first play of the game was a 44-yard connection with junior wideout Ryan Mitchell and pushed the ball from Penn's 22 to Columbia's 36. The Quakers got to the Lions' 20 before being stifled, but Connor Loftus nailed a 37-yard field goal to put Penn up, 3-0, at the 10:36 mark of the second quarter.
Columbia responded on its next drive. The Lions used a good mix of ground and air to drive all the way to Penn's 10-yard line before the Quaker defense stiffened and pushed them back to the 23. However, Luke Eddy was able to knock home a 40-yard field goal that tied the score almost exactly midway through the second quarter. Eddy then gave the Lions the lead at halftime with a 38-yard field goal with just two seconds left before the break.
Penn regained the lead on the first possession of the second half. It took just six plays to go 63 yards and was capped by the first of Ragone's three second-half touchdown passes - a 13-yarder over the middle to junior wideout Conner Scott.
Columbia went up 13-10 on Garrett's first touchdown run of the game at the 6:05 mark of the third quarter. The Lions nearly struck again on their next possession, but senior captain Brandon Copeland blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt just three plays into the fourth quarter. A short while later though, Garrett's second touchdown gave the Lions a 10-point lead and set up the wild comeback from the Quakers.
Ragone, who is now 7-1 as a starter at home against the Ivy League, was 18-of-34 for 181 yards and the three second-half touchdown passes. He has gone four games and 94 pass attempts without an interception. He also led the team with 66 rushing yards on an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
Marsh was the top target of the day along with Mitchell. Both set career highs with seven receptions. Mitchell finished with a game-high 90 receiving yards and Marsh had 80.
Defensively, junior safety Sebastian Jaskowski had a team-high 10 tackles. He has reached double digit tackles in three of the team's five games this year. Wilk had a career-high nine tackles - surpassing his previous career-best with the game-saving tackle on the final play. Copeland matched a season high with eight tackles and had a sack for the third consecutive game. Senior Taylor Brown matched a career-best with six tackles and recorded his second sack of the season. Sophomore Feerooz Yacoobi recorded his first career sack with a takedown in the fourth quarter.
Senior Scott Lopano was a star on special teams again. He matched a career-high with nine punts and still averaged 45.4 yards per punt. He had a long of 60 and pinned three inside the 20. Lopano also moved into third-place all-time at Penn with 165 career punts - one short of Ryan Lazzeri (1998-2001) for second place.
Up next, the Quakers are back on national television as they take on the Yale Bulldogs at the Yale Bowl. Kickoff from New Haven, Conn., is set for noon. NBC Sports will televise the Ivy title.