PU football can’t claw back

Penn wins eighth straight over Tigers

By: Justin Feil
PHILADELPHIA – The Penn football team made a convincing case for its No. 9 Division I-AA ranking with a 37-7 win over Princeton University on Saturday.
   In front of 21,060 at Franklin Field, the Quakers took advantage of four first-half turnovers by the Tigers to build a 30-0 lead, and didn’t allow any sort of comeback on their way to extending the second-longest winning streak in the nation to 14 games. Penn improved to 8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Ivy League, while the Tigers were mathematically eliminated from the race by dropping to 2-6 overall, 2-3 in the Ivies. It was their eighth straight loss to Penn in the series, though the Tigers still hold a 61-32-1 advantage overall.
   "Penn’s deserving of their No. 9 ranking," said Princeton head coach Roger Hughes, whose team hosts Yale next Saturday. "I felt like they dominated the ball on both lines of scrimmage. When you’re playing a team of this caliber, you have to hope some breaks go your way, and obviously when you get (four) turnovers in the first half, it’s very difficult to put your defense in that kind of field position to defend against a very good offense."
   Princeton struggled from the outset to hold onto the ball, while the Quakers seemed to take advantage of every opportunity handed them. They did not punt in the first half and scored on six of seven possessions. Their miss came when the PU defense held once on fourth down. Princeton did not score until barely five minutes remained in the third quarter.
   "They took advantage of everything that we gave them," Hughes said. "Certainly my hat goes off to Al Bagnoli and the Penn staff. They’ve done a great job and they’ve got a great team and certainly we made them look that good. We made them look even better than we wanted to coming in."
   After Princeton lost three yards on its first possession, Penn scored on its third play when Sam Mathews took the hand-off from Mitchell, pitched it back to Mitchell as he neared the line of scrimmage and the Quaker quarterback found Dan Castles down the middle for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 11:44 left in the first quarter. Peter Veldman’s extra point made it 7-0 for the Quakers.
   "When you go into a big game, even if think you’re a slight favorite, you don’t want to play conservatively," said Bagnoli, the Penn head coach of his flea flicker call. "You want to attack. We had a lot more than that if we needed it."
   Thanks to mounting Tiger mistakes, Penn played pretty much everything else straightforward. Princeton punted again on its second possession, and Penn followed with a drive to the Princeton 10, but the Tiger defense held them to just three yards from there, and Veldman’s 24-yard field goal with 5:07 to go in the first quarter made it 10-0 for the hosts. But the Tiger offense couldn’t pick up momentum from its defense’s stand.
   On third-and-6, Matt Verbit found Tim Bowden in the flat, but Bowden was stood up and fumbled. Penn’s Seth Fisher recovered at the Princeton 19, and Mathews scored his first of two touchdowns of the game on a 3-yard run two plays later for a 17-0 advantage that stood up as the first quarter ended. It looked then that the Tigers had lost their chance for an upset of the Ivy leader.
   "We really didn’t feel that way," Hughes said. "We’d seen on tape that Penn had gotten big leads before and had relinquished them at points. So we really felt, ‘OK, they jumped up early,’ especially (because) we were into the wind early, but we’d be able to fight our way back into the game. Certainly a lot of our victories this year have come from behind."
   Princeton found its first offensive spark when a 58-yard pass from Verbit to B.J. Szymanski gave them their first first down of the half and first entry into Penn territory. But two plays later Verbit was hit while scrambling and fumbled. This time, Penn’s Bryan Arguello recovered.
   "We felt like we were going to have a chance to come back," said Verbit who completed 19 of 29 passes for 273 yards, "but every time we’d get something going, we’d shoot ourselves in the foot with a fumble or a penalty. We had confidence that we were going to be able to come back. It just didn’t work out."
   The Princeton defense again eventually held and forced a 29-yard field goal by Veldman. Trailing, 20-0, with 13:49 left in the second quarter, Princeton needed a score, but the offense continued to stumble.
   Verbit fumbled on a hit by Penn’s Rudy Brown after picking up five yards on an option run, and the Quakers’ Robert Fallon recovered. Again, the PU defense picked up the offense when Joe Weiss stopped Mathews short of a first down on fourth-and-2 from Princeton’s 22. However, the Tigers’ ensuing possession ended with a partially blocked punt off the foot of Colin McDonough, and Penn was able to eventually add a field goal.
   The Quakers drove 55 yards in 15 plays and consumed 7:01 before Princeton’s defense held on first-and-goal from the 3. Veldman hit on his third field goal attempt, a 25-yarder with 2:03 left in the half. But the Tiger defense had difficulty consistently defending a short field.
   "I felt like Penn brought it today," said Princeton linebacker Justin Stull, who had 12 tackles and the Tigers’ only sack. "They took it to us. Penn’s a good team and they showed that today. We did not bring our top game. I felt like we’ve been getting better the last couple weeks, but I don’t think we took another step forward this week like we needed to."
   In perhaps the play that best defined a frustrating first half for the Tigers, Penn was forced to hold the ball on the tee for the ensuing kickoff and its bouncing kick then dribbled between return men Jon Veach and Greg Fields and Penn’s Adam Francks was able to recover the live ball. Mitchell then hooked up with Castles on a 10-yard fade pass for the touchdown that made it 30-0 with 40 seconds left before halftime.
   "On the kickoff return, the one we didn’t field, we practice that every week twice or three times," Hughes said. "We talk about what the up returners should do, how they should get on it. For whatever reason we didn’t get on it. We practiced every one of those scenarios and that’s the even more frustrating thing. They knew what to do. They did what they were supposed to, other than come up with the football."
   The second half began ominously as the Tiger offense fumbled again as Blair Morrison could not hang on after a catch and Rudy Brown recovered for Penn. Morrison led Princeton with nine catches for 121 yards. Szymanski had four catches for 119 yards and ran a reverse option for 10 yards.
   Princeton’s offense didn’t figure to get any better after it accepted a penalty on Penn’s punt, but the Quakers’ second attempt pinned the Tigers deeper than the first one on their own 4. Curiously, that’s when Princeton did best.
   Princeton, which has twice scored this year on drives over 90 yards, did it again. The Tigers drove 96 yards, keyed by a 49-yard Verbit-to-Szymanski completion and 21-yard strike from Verbit to Morrison. Verbit and Morrison also connected for a fourth-down pick-up that put the ball at the 3 for Veach’s touchdown run that made it 30-7 with 5:18 left in the third quarter.
   Penn, however, answered with a 10-play drive of its own capped by a Mathews’ 5-yard touchdown run at the 13:47 mark of the fourth quarter, then held the Tigers out of the end zone on two late drives.
   "We certainly need to learn something and we can’t fold our tent," Hughes said. "I told them that next week I’m stepping on the field expecting to win a game. Yale’s a good team and we have to get ready for them. We need to learn from this loss and we need to be ready to play from the start."