VILLANOVA, Pa. - For more than a half Saturday night, it looked like Penn and Villanova were headed toward yet another fantastic finish, this time at Villanova Stadium after three-straight such games at Franklin Field.
However, one key factor played a role in the Wildcats ultimately pulling away for a 34-14 victory.
Turnovers. More specifically, interceptions.
Penn (0-2)threw seven on the night, and that spelled doom for the Quakers. The interceptions came at all different times in drives -- from the first play in somedrives, to two that came in the Villanova end zone. Regardless of when they came, they stifled a Penn offense that rolled for 14 points in the first quarter but got shut down after that.
Villanova (3-1) tied a school record with the seven picks; the other time it happened was 1946, against Georgetown. Penn does not keep records for number of interceptions thrown.
The interceptions were compounded by Penn's inability to run the ball Saturday night. Playing without Joe Sandberg, who missed the game as he continues to recover from a leg injury, the Quakers ran the ball 45 times for just 25 yards.
The loss offset an outstanding performance by Braden Lepisto, who set a career high with 11 receptions and had 123 receiving yards. His 11 catches were the most since Dan Castles had 12 against Bucknell on Oct. 9, 2004, and tied him for ninth on the school's single-game list (with Miles Macik, who had 11 receptions vs. William & Mary on Oct. 14, 1995). Marcus Lawrence had four catches for 55 yards.
Things certainly looked good at the start for Penn fans, especially after the Week 1 loss to Lafayette in which the offense struggled. Saturday night, the Quakers took the opening kickoff and drove down the field for an immediate score. The drive took eight plays and covered 69 yards, ending with Robert Irvin hitting Kyle Derham in the end zone from 17 yards out. The TD was Derham's first collegiate score.
The Penn defense stopped Villanova's first drive, but a harbinger of things to come followed when Irvin threw a pick to the Wildcats' Darrel Young on the Quakers' first play at their own 30-yard line. 'Nova earned just one yard in three plays, but on fourth-and-9 Antwon Young found Phil Atkinson for 33 yards and a score to tie things up.
Penn responded, driving 54 yards in seven plays with Bryan Walker at the QB spot. Walker was efficient on the drive, completing four of six passes including a 7-yarder to Lepisto for a touchdown to make it 14-7.
In the second quarter, Villanova put the only points on the board, again capitalizing on an interception. This time, Walker was picked by Eugene Clay, and 14 plays later the Wildcats got three points when Joe Marcoux kicked a 21-yard field goal.
Things quickly went south in the third quarter.
After the Penn defense held Villanova on the second half's opening drive, the Quakers offense got off to a quick start as Irvin found Lepisto for 33 yards. On the very next play, however, Irvin was intercepted by Salim Koroma at the Villanova 24-yard line. Once again, the Wildcats took advantage, driving 76 yards in just seven plays to take a 17-14 lead when Young found Atkinson for a 10-yard score.
On Penn's ensuing drive, Irvin was picked on the very first play, this time by John Dempsey who returned it to Penn's 27-yard line. The Quaker defense was able to hold Villanova in check, and the 'Cats were forced to settle for a 29-yard Marcoux field goal to make it 20-14.
Villanova was recipient of another gift late in the third quarter when Gregory Ambrogi fumbled a Zach Ugarte punt and the ball was recovered by the Wildcats' Matthew Szczur at the Penn 45. The 'Cats moved down the field and ended the driveon the first play of the fourth quarter when Young found Matthew Sherry for a 10-yard touchdown toss. That made the score 27-14.
Villanova's final points came on the heels of yet another turnover -- this time a Walker pass was picked by Dempsey -- as Young found Atkinson for 47 yards on a third-and-13 play.
Penn finally sustained a drive after that score, driving from its own 27-yard line all the way to Villanova's 8-yard line. However, Irvin -- who orchestrated the drive -- threw a pass that was intercepted by Zach Mariacher in the end zone. The Quakers had another drive at the end of the game that ended in the Wildcats end zone, with Anthony Johnson picking off Irvin.
Penn is back in action next Saturday, traveling to Dartmouth to take on the Big Green in its first Ivy League game of the season.