VILLANOVA, PA. 9/24, 2015 – The University of Pennsylvania had the ball most of the game, and the defense kept the #5 Villanova offense contained. Still, the Wildcats looked like they were mounting a comeback driving the 8 yard line of Penn trailing by 17 – 7. Suddenly and unexpectedly Penn linebacker Daniel Panciello picked up a fumble and returned 90 yards for a touchdown with 6:51 left to play to put the Quakers in control. The Red and Blue beat Villanova for the first time in over a century 24 – 13. It was also the first win at Penn for head coach Ray Priore who felt it was keeping the ball that made the difference.
“We had to minimize their possessions,” said Penn Coach Ray Priore. “The game is all about the ball. Whoever has the ball wins. We felt we had to control it early and then see what happens. We had to control the ball and keep it out of their hands because they are so lethal.”
Penn had a major time of possession advantage holding on the ball 23 plus minutes longer than Villanova after 3 quarters of play. The Red and Blue also had time consuming scoring drives of 4:15 when quarterback Alex Torgeren threw a 12 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Justin Watson in the first quarter. The tandem scored again in the second quarter as Watson turned in a 33 yard catch and run capping an 8 play, 60 yard drive in 5:24 giving the Quakers a 14 – 0 lead at halftime. It could have been a three touchdown lead when Penn drove to the 7 yard line of Nova. Torgersen had Watson in the endzone. It appeared to be a catch, but Villanova defensive back Malik Reaves also had his hands on the ball and pulled it away for an interception with 6 seconds on the clock.
In the second half the Quakers kept possession, then capitalized on a turnover. Red and Blue defensive back Sam Philippi intercepted a Zach Bednarczyk pass at the 36 of the Blue and White. Penn capped an 11 play, 30 yard drive with a 41 yard field goal by Jimmy Gimmell at 4:14 mark for a 17 – 0 lead.
Helping Penn to keep the ball was the ability to make third down conversions. The Quakers converted 8 of 18 third down conversions. This allowed Penn to execute and drain the Villanova defense.
“You saw a lot of that when they got some critical third downs,” Villanova Coach Andy Talley said. “We usually close people down. We left our group on the field way too long. It wore on us a little bit.”
It also kept the Blue and White offense off the field.
The Wildcats were missing three offensive linemen and star quarterback John Robertson. It was also a short week for preparation. It took to the fourth quarter for Villanova to get some offensive momentum. The Wildcats scored late in the third quarter on a Gary Underwood one yard touchdown run to cut the gap to 17 – 7. Getting the ball back the Blue an White looked poised to get a proximity score, but the fumble return ended the hopes for a comeback win.
“I saw open green and white to my left, ” Panciello said. “I tried not to look back, saw the endzone, and knew my guys were blocking for me. We wanted one more score.”
“The turning point of the game was the fumble,” said Talley. “If we had gone in there and scored it would have been 17 – 14 with an opportunity to dig down and see what might happen. That was a gut buster for sure.”
The Red and Blue are 1 – 1 on the season and prepare for their Ivy League opener on October 3 against Dartmouth. And they can savor a long awaited win over their city rival.
“Our mindset coming into the game was to grind it out and go hard every play and do our best,” said Torgersen.
Villanova sports a 2 – 2 record and have a week off before a game against William and Mary on October. The Wildcats off a tough three games have some time to heal from injuries and get some cohesion back in the offense. Talley feels the problems are fixable.
Written By: Glenn Papazian