JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A great start to head coach Al Bagnoli's final season was washed away in the final minute as the University of Pennsylvania football team conceded the winning touchdown with 39 seconds to play. Penn dropped its season opener at Jacksonville, 34-31, in a driving rainstorm at Milne Field on Saturday afternoon.
Penn led 31-19 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins drove 67 yards in just under three minutes to close to within 31-26. A few minutes later, freshman Hunter Kelley rolled a punt to the Jacksonville 14-yard line with 2:32 to play. Neither the driving rainstorm nor the Penn defense could slow down the Dolphins, who proceeded to cover the full 86 yards in eight plays to take the lead with 39 seconds to play. The two-point conversion put Penn down 34-31.
Penn (0-1) took over at its own 25, but on third down the ball slipped out of the hands of sophomore quarterback Alek Torgersen -- who threw for 200 yards and ran for 65 in his first career start --and landed into the waiting arms of Jacksonville's Brandon Roe to seal the game for the Dolphins (2-1).
It was a great start in all three phases of the game for the Quakers, who jumped out to a 14-point lead. The defense -- aided by a 12-yard sack from seniorDan Davis -- forced a three-and-out. Then on special teams, seniorSpencer Kulcsarreturned a punt 24 yards inside the Jacksonville 30, and the offense needed just five plays to score from there -- Togersen ran it in from six yards out.
A successful fake punt led to a field goal for the Dolphins. But Penn extended its lead just a few moments later. Kelley punted to midfield where Jacksonville muffed the punt and junior Ian Dobbins fell on the ball near midfield.
After a pair of completions to freshman Justin Watson, senior Lyle Marsh ran 21 yards to the three-yard line. Sophomore Adam Strouss took the snap and ran it in from there for a 14-3 lead just 12 minutes into the contest.
JuniorJimmy Gammill capped an eight-play, 79-yard drive with his first collegiate field goal. The 18-yarder had Penn on top, 17-3 with 7:30 left in the half.
However, Jacksonville scored the last 10 of the half and closed the gap at intermission to 17-13.
The Dolphins also scored first in the second half and took their first lead of the game at the 7:34 mark of the third quarter. However, freshman Brandon Michel blocked the extra point attempt and kept Penn's deficit to just 19-17.
Penn immediately responded. Torgersen led the Quakers -- who were now without their top two running backs due to injury -- 75 yards in 12 plays. Strouss converted a 4th-and-3 from the Jacksonville 34 with a six-yard burst through the middle. Moments later, on 3rd-and-10 from the 17-yard line, the pocket began to collapse on Torgersen, but he found room, hopped, and threw to juniorRyan Kelly in the back of the end zone. Kelly leaped and juggled the ball, but was able to gain possession and get his foot down inbounds to put Penn on top, 24-19 with 3:13 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of the next possession, senior Dan Wilk leaped for his fifth career interception and kept both feet in along the sideline to give the Quakers the ball at the Jacksonville 34. Torgersen connected with Kulcsar, who finished with 127 receiving yards and 176 all-purpose yards, for 26 yards to set up first-and-goal. Three plays later, Strouss ran it in again for a 31-19 advantage with 1:21 remaining in the third.
The statistics matched the scoreboard in an even battle throughout. Both teams ran 81 plays and were nearly even in total offense Penn (407) and Jacksonville (393). Penn did so with 207 on the ground and 200 through the air, while Jacksonville had 154 yards rushing and 239 yards passing. Both teams also had two turnovers. The Quakers were 10-of-21 on third down and held the Dolphins to 4-of-15, but Jacksonville was 3-for-3 on fourth down, including a 4th-and-3 conversion near midfield during their game-winning drive.
The Quakers will board their charter flight home to Philadelphia and begin to prepare for next week's Schuylkill Showdown. The Red and Blue will take on city rival Villanova in the home opener on Saturday and kick off the 120th season at Franklin Field -- the nation's oldest collegiate football stadium. Game time is set for 3 p.m., and the game can be seen on the Penn Sports Network.