PHILADELPHIA The 11th edition of the Penn-Villanova rivalry certainly gave fans their money’s worth. Forty-seven first-half points, four fumbles, four interceptions, 847 total yards of offense and a last-gasp Penn effort were rolled into a wild shootout that sawthe Quakerson the losing end of a 27-20 score at Franklin Field Saturday night.
The final Penn series was déjà vu for Quaker fans, who might have recalled last year’s heartbreaking loss to the Wildcats. This time,the Quakersgot the ball with 2:35 remaining on the clock at their own 32. Bryan Walker, in for a shaken-up Robert Irvin, marched the Quakers upfield to the Villanova 10-yard line. Penn had four downs to crack it in from there, but only Walker’s three-yard run amidst three incompletions got Penn closer, and Walker’s incomplete toss to Billy May on fourth down ended the game with no time left.
All of the game’s scoring came in the first half, and the Quakers got theirs in the wildest of ways: one when Gregory Ambrogi returned a punt 60 yards, another when running back Joe Sandberg threw a 26-yard pass to Kelms Amoo-Achampong, and the final one when Sandberg broke free for a 74-yard run.
Meanwhile, Villanova used an efficient offense to carry the lead into the half.
Ambrogi put Penn on the board first with a 60-yard punt return with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter. Dodging several tackles at midfield, Ambrogi broke loosealong theride side and hit open space, and a Villanova holding penalty was declined to give Penn its first punt return for a touchdown since Joe Piela returnedone 83 yards against Cornell in 1998. Derek Zoch missed the kick, but the Quakers took a 6-0 lead.
OnVillanova's next drive, DeQuese May set up the Wildcats with a 34-yard catch to move into Penn territory. A Marvin Burroughs scramble left the Cats with a first down at the 1-yard line. Two Burroughs sneaks failed to produce a touchdown, but Matt Dicken punched it in on third down and Villanova took a 7-6 lead.
Penn got right back on top at the start of the second quarter. With Walker coming in under center for the Quakers, Penn drove into Villanova territory before Sandberg took a handoff, swept right to draw several defenders, then threw a pass right over their head into the waitingarms of a wide-open Amoo-Achampong for a touchdown. Zoch’s extra point made it 13-7.
Before the Quakers even had a chance to celebrate the score, though, Villanova came out and made their own scoring mark. On the second play of the series, Burroughs tossed up a 57-yard bomb to Chris Polte, who found open space and scored with just over 11 minutes left in the half to make it 14-13 Cats.
Villanova kept their momentum alive in the next series, after Allyn Bacchus intercepted Irvin’s pass to set up terrific starting field position on the Penn 30-yard line. Burroughs’ 27-yard strike to May just two plays later made it 20-13, with Derek Fiorenza’s PAT attempt being no good.
Penn next chance officially made the first half a shootout. On the third play of the drive, Sandberg went to his left and broke loose for a career-long 74-yard touchdown haul, dancing along the Penn sideline and avoiding multiple tackles to help tie the game at 20.
Villanovaanswered right back andtookits time on the next drive, using 11 plays before Burroughs completed a 17-yard pass to May to make it 27-20 with just under two minutes to go. The Cats got one more crack at scoring with no time left in the half, but Joe Marcoux’s 47-yard attempt sailed wide right.
For as much scoring occurred in the first half, there were nearly as many turnovers in the third quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, Irvin threw his second pick of the night, this time to Rodney Badger, setting up the Wildcats with field position at the Penn 43 to start the half.
“It was difficult to get some offense going in the second half, mostly because Villanova had the ball for the majority of the half,” Bagnoli said. “There were also a lot of unusual plays and turnovers that made it hard for us to get a significant drive going.”
But just as quickly, a Penn turnover changed all that. Burroughs’ pass to Phil Atkinson was completed, and Atkinson was hit by Pat Kimener to force a fumble that was scooped up by Tyson Maugle, effectively nullifying the Villanova interception. Unfortunately the Quakers couldn’t make anything happen offensively and were forced to punt.
A wild turn of events happened next. Another turnover would seem to turn the tide against Penn midway through the third. Ambrogi fumbled a punt return at his own 12-yard line and the Cats recovered, setting up Villanova in the red zone. But a few plays later, Ambrogi intercepted a pass on the goal line and returned it, only to fumble again, this time at the 30-yard line where Villanova’s Brian Brannigan recovered.
But the wild night at Franklin Field didn’t end there. Burroughs scrambled to pass on third down, but his pass was tipped by Jim Malizia right into Jordan Manning’s arms, giving Penn the ball back at their own 19-yard line on the eighth and final turnover of the night
Burroughs had a fantastic game, completing 16 of 33 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns, and also running for 93 more.
Sandberg, who had 96 yards with a touchdown in the first-half but ended up with 94 for the game, was shut down in the second half by the Villanova defense.
“It was frustrating trying to get a running game going today,” Sandberg said. “Villanova kept a lot of players in the box, so every time I hit a hole it felt like there were six Villanova players waiting for me.”
Defensively, sophomore Maugle shined for Penn, making 13 tackles, recovering a fumble, forcing a fumble and breaking up two passes. Bacchus led the Cats with nine tackles and an interception.
Penn opens its Ivy League slate next Saturday with Dartmouth at 1 p.m. on Franklin Field.