EASTON, Pa. - Whatever questions the Penn football team may have had coming into the 2006 season, severalwere answered Saturday as the Quakers convincingly took out No. 22 Lafayette, 21-11, at Fisher Field. The win marked the 100th for Head Coach Al Bagnoli at Penn.
There was senior running back Joe Sandberg, who moved into the starting role and ran 24 times for 166 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-clinching 36-yard breakout to paydirt with 5:39 to play. There was sophomore quarterback Robert Irvin, who entered Saturday's contest having never taken a snap of college football, completing his first 11 passes to start and ending up going 17-for-27 for 182 yards. There was junior wide receiver Dan Coleman --who, like Irvin, was untested in gameaction-- catchingfive passes for 85 yards, including a pair of 24-yard receptions to start the game. And there were the Penn special teams, which blocked two field goal attempts and stopped a fake punt attempt at a critical juncture of the game.
Penn (1-0) wonits opening game for thesixth year in a row, while the Leopards(2-1) fell for the first time this season after an impressive start that vaulted them into the national rankings. The game was also the first played at Lafayette's newly renovated Fisher Stadium.
The Quakers wasted no time on their first drive of the season, marching 80 yards in 12 plays to set up Sandberg’s 1-yard touchdown run to the left side. Irvin went 5-for-5 on the drive, including a 24-yard strike over the middle to Coleman to put the ball on the 1-yard line.
The Quakers’ start on defense would be as auspicious as that of their offensive counterparts whenBrian Fairbanks began the stand with a sack of Lafayette’s Brad Maurer. Lafayette went three-and-out, and the Quakers again marched downfield with a Sandberg first down and another leaping 24-yard catch by Coleman over midfield. The Leopard defense held, however, and forced the Quakers to punt.
Lafayette moved the ball well on the ensuing drive and ended up with a field goal. A 24-yard Jonathan Hurt carry and a pair of 20-yard catches by Michael Bolton and Joe Russo put the Leopards on the Penn 9-yard-line. On third-and-four, Maurer bobbled the snap, ran out rightside and was stuffed by Brian Appleby for a loss, setting up a 28-yard field goal by Rich Ziska.
Midway through the second quarter and starting on their own 34, a pair of Sandberg runs put the Quakers over midfield before a false start penalty pushed them back to the 50. Two incomplete passes forced Penn to punt from midfield, and Anthony Melillo pinned Lafayette inside the 6.
With time winding down in the second quarter, Lafayette began driving with three consecutive first downs before the Quaker defense clamped down. Scotty Williams stopped Hurt behind the line and Maurer overthrew a target in the end zone before Naheem Harris ended the drive with a sack of Maurer to force a turnover on downs.
Penn started with 2:20 left in the half onits own 40 and moved over midfield on another long Coleman reception, this time a 24-yarder down to the Leopard 32. A Chris Mizell catch and Irvin scramble out of bounds put the Quakers on the 17-yard line with 40 seconds left before Braden Lepisto made an acrobatic, one-foot-inbounds catch inches shy of the end zone. Irvin capped the drive with a sneak to score with 18 ticks left in the half.
Irvin had a fantastic start to the game. The sophomore went 11-for-11 for 108 yards to start the game before his first incomplete pass, a 40-yard touchdown attempt to Matt Carre, sailed out of bounds. By the end of the first half, Irvin was an impressive 15-of-19 for 160 yards. Coleman caught five balls for 85 yards in the first half.
Lafayette received to start the second half and wasted no time getting over midfield after Hurt’s 17-yard run and a first-down toss to Anthony D’Urso down to the Penn 20. Hurt broke loose down the sideline on the next play, stepping out of bounds at the 5 to put the Leopards in position. But the Quaker defense, as it had all afternoon, bent but didn’t break. Hurt ran for no gain on first down, Maurice White was stopped on the left side on the second down and Kory Gedin tipped Maurer’s third-down pass out of bounds.
It was then special teams’ turn to shine, as Ziska’s field goal attempt was blocked by Scott Williams and Penn took over at the 20. The Quakers couldn’t replicate the success of the first quarter, though, and punted after going three and out.
The next Leopard drive would look like the others with plenty of movement up field, but again, a big defensive play stopped the Leopards. Tyson Maugle, starting his first career game at cornerback, intercepted a pass at the Penn 34-yard line to give his team the ball back with 6:30 to go in the third quarter.
Penn’s drive stalled at midfield and Melillo’s punt put the Leopards inside the 20. After a first down, Williams and Jim Malizia combined for a sack on Maurer for a loss of nine yards and Maurer’s incomplete pass on third-and-19 forced a punt that gave Penn very favorable field position at the Lafayette 45 to start the fourth quarter.
The Quakers, though, squandered the opportunity and had to punt, but Melillo again pinned Lafayette down, this time putting the ball at the 1-yard line.
A 37-yard connection from Maurer to Joe Orr got the Leopards out of trouble and Lafayette got first downs on the next two plays with completed passes to Duaeno Dorsey and Hurt. After a five-yard run by D’Urso and an incomplete pass, Maurer ran up the middle on a draw 25 yards to paydirt to cap the 99-yard drive and make it a 14-9 game. Maurer then connected on the conversion with a pass to Dorsey to make it 14-11 with 11:53 to go in the game.
Sandberg took Penn on his back on the next drive, rushing for 17, five and 17 yards in consecutive plays before Kelms Amoo-Achampong ran for three and six yards on two plays. Sandberg though was stopped in the backfield on third-and-one, and Penn decided to go for it on fourth and four. Sandberg only got two yards on the pitch and Penn turned the ball over on downs with 7:37 left in the game.
Penn’s defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, but the Leopards faked the punt and Justin Stovall barely missed converting the first down, but gave the Quakers the ball back at the Lafayette 36.
It would take just one play to seal the game. Joe Sandberg took a hand-off and broke out for a 36-yard touchdown run, and the extra point gave Penn a 21-11 lead with 5:39 left.
Facing the 10-point deficit, Lafayette marched downfield on a 63-yard drive that stalled in the red zone. Ziska's 27-yard field goal attempt was blocked, Penn's second of the afternoon, by J.J. Stanton, securing the result.