PROVIDENCE, R.I. - When Penn stepped onto Brown Stadium’s grass surface Saturday afternoon, the Quakers did so facing a Bears defense that ranked last in the Ivy League in yards allowed per game.
Penn got its yards, but unfortunately they seemed to come too late as the Quakers fell, 31-17.
With the loss, Penn droppedto 2-5 overall, 1-3 in the Ivy League. Brown improved to 3-4, 2-2 in Ivy play.
Despite playing the entire second half without leading rusher Joe Sandberg he was injured in the second quarter and ran for just 46 yards on nine carries Penn finished the contest with 472 yards of total offense, including 339 through the air. Of those yards, however, nearly 180 of them came in the fourth quarter when the Quakers were down 28-10.
In addition, Brown’s defense defined “bend but do not break” Saturday, as the Quakers found their way into the end zone just the two times on six trips into the red zone, and went 1-of-4 on field goal attempts with two of them blocked.
Brown entered the game with the top passing offense in the country, and finished with 238 Saturday. However, the Bears ran for 121 more on 36 carries, and parlayed two Penn turnovers into 14 points that proved to be the difference.
Penn got off to a good start in this one, taking the opening drive inside Brown’s 10-yard line before reaching fourth down. However, in a harbinger of where the day would go, head coach Al Bagnoli opted for the field goal and Samson missed the short attempt to give the Bears the ball.
Brown was methodical on its second drive of the game, marching 68 yards in 10 plays to score the first points of the day. The drive, which mixed the Bears’ nation-leading aerial attack with a solid running game, culminated when quarterback Michael Dougherty found tight end Colin Cloherty wide open up the middle for a 17-yard score.
Penn answered quickly. After Marcus Lawrence took the kickoff 48 yards to the Brown 42, the Quakers needed only two plays to go the rest of the way to paydirt. The first play was a pass from Bryan Walker to Braden Lepisto that went for 26 yards, and then Sandberg ran off right tackle the rest of the way, covering 16 yards on his way to the end zone and his team-leading eighth touchdown of the season.
Patrick Kimener intercepted Dougherty near midfield on the next drive, returning the ball to the Brown 37. However, Walker returned the favor and then some when he threw a ball on third down that was picked off the Bears’ Darren Harrison and returned 65 yards for the score. That gave Brown a 14-7 lead.
The Bears then hit an onside kick and recovered, and looked like they might drive to more points before a Dougherty pass sailed into the arms of sophomore Chris Wynn, his fifth pick of the year.
Brown forced Penn to punt, then went on a 13-play, 71-yard drive that covered 4:15 and led to its third touchdown. This time, the scoring play occurred when Dougherty found Paul Raymond on a fade route to the right side.
Penn again answered on the kickoff, as Wynn went 33 yards to the Brown 42. On first down, the Quakers used Matt Belasco on an end-around, and his first touch of the season went for 20 yards. Four plays later, Samson kicked a 35-yard field goal to make the score 21-10. On the field goal, Lepisto did a superb job handling a low snap and setting the ball for Samson to kick.
Penn made a critical mistake in the final 30 seconds of the half. Facing third down on its own 6-yard line, a bad handoff between Walker and running back Michael DiMaggio turned into a fumble that was recovered by Brown’s James Develin at the 4-yard line. The Bears turned that into seven points when Bobby Sewall ran it in on first down, and took a 28-10 lead.
Penn almost scored in those final 21 seconds. A squib kick gave the ball to the Quakers at their 40-yard line, and then a 17-yard pass from Walker to Lepisto and an eight-yard pass to Dan Coleman put the ball on the Brown 35 with four seconds left. That set up a final, Hail Mary play that the Quakers nearly pulled off in the left side of the end zone on the final play before the break.
Brown started with the ball in the second half, and again sliced through the Penn defense, going 64 yards in 12 plays down to the Quakers 7-yard line. However, at that point Penn caught a break, when Chris Strickland took a pitch and had the ball squirt out of his hands. The Quakers’ Josh Neubert recovered at the 12-yard line, and Penn put together its own methodical drive that stalled at the Brown 15-yard line. At that point, Penn lost nine yards on three downs at that point, and then Samson’s 41-yard field goal attempt was low and easily blocked.
The next time they got the ball, the Quakers again successfully moved it downfield, as Walker looked sharp with his passes. However, once again a Samson field goal attempt went for naught, this time blocked by Brown’s Joseph McPhee with just 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Quakers next drive stalled on downs just over midfield, and Brown followed that stop with a six-play, 48-yard drive that ended with Steve Morgan kicking a 30-yard field goal. That made the score 31-10 with 9:02 to play in the game.
Penn came back to finally get back on the board. The drive took 15 plays and went 83 yards, bolstered greatly by a pass interference call on Brown after an unsuccessful fourth-down play in the shadow of the goal line. Two plays later, the scoring play came when Walker found Marcus Lawrence for three yards in the near right corner of the end zone.
Penn held Brown to a three-and-out, and quickly moved down the field toward another score as the clock wound down. However, luck worked against the Quakers in the final minute a Walker pass to Lepisto in the end zone tipped off the diving receiver’s hands and into the hands of Brown safety Miles Craigwell, effectively ending the contest.
Walker finished the game completing 36 of 60 passes, tying his own school record for pass attempts in a game (set earlier this year against Dartmouth). He also ran 10 times for 48 yards to lead the Quakers. Lepisto finished with 10 catches for 141 yards, the third time in his career he has reached triple digits in receiving yards. Coleman and Lawrence had five catches each, for 46 and 27 yards, respectively.
Penn is back in action at home next Saturday, taking on rival Princeton. The game will kick off at noon, and air live on regional cable network CN8.