Kantemni | Penn football ushers in new era with huge win, but worries linger

Sophomore quarterback Aidan Sayin throws a pass to senior running back Trey Flowers during the game against Dartmouth at Memorial Stadium on September 30. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

HANOVER, NH — It could have been a case of deja vu for Penn football on Friday night.

In 1982, Penn was hungry for success. The Quakers hadn’t won an Ivy League title in nearly 25 years and had just finished their previous campaign with a miserable 1-9 record. They were set to open their road campaign against the Dartmouth Big Green, a game many picked the Quakers to lose to the co-defending champions. To the shock of many, however, the Quakers shut out Dartmouth 21-0 and ended up finishing that season 7-3. That matchday one win and the team’s success that season saw Les Rouge et Bleu claim their first of 17 league titles in the past 40 seasons.

In 2022, Penn may have just set himself up to begin a new era of dominance in Quaker football. While it’s not pretty, Penn somehow found a way to beat a Dartmouth side that had gone 27-3 the past three seasons and were considered the preseason favorites for the league title. Ivy League.

For their night game, Dartmouth chose to wear all black uniforms. It turns out the Big Greens would be well dressed for a potential funeral for their Ivy League title hopefuls this season, courtesy of the Quakers.

Dartmouth entered the game ranked second in the FCS in total offense and averaged 36.5 points per game. For Penn and coach Ray Priore, however, it wasn’t how many points and yards the Big Green was putting up; that was where they came from. Dartmouth’s offensive production came mostly on the field, led by dual-threat quarterback Nick Howard, who rushed for 243 yards and four scores before the game.

Luckily for Penn, he faced a similar test in Colgate’s dual-threat signalman Michael Brescia, and the plan for Howard was similar – get ahead of the scoreboard and force him to throw the ball more while playing from behind.

On the first practice, the Quakers did just that, going 75 yards down the field in 14 plays, chewing up nearly eight minutes of game clock. The running game unbalanced the Big Green, and the sophomore quarterback Aidan Sayin picked up the pace with quick and easy completions. Penn took a 7-0 lead, and other than a late-half drive for a field goal, Dartmouth’s offense couldn’t get going after another strong performance from the Quaker defense, which until present this season has proven to be the pulse of this team.

Why Penn was held to seven points until the final seconds of regulation rests mostly on Priore’s shoulders. On their second possession, still leading the touchdown, the Quakers shed 54 yards at the Dartmouth 21 and faced a fourth-and-one. Junior kicker Graham Gotlieb appeared to be hitting his attempts from 50 yards during warm-ups, and it would have been around 35 yards at that distance.

Priore opted to pass on the safety points, however, and opted to go with running back Trey Flowers, whom Dartmouth quickly tackled from the edge. The Quakers had used Flowers extensively on that drive, and the Big Green likely bet on Priore turning to the senior running back again in that fourth-and-one situation.

After the defense took position, the Quakers again faced a fourth down, requiring five yards. Sitting on the edge of Gotlieb’s lineup, Priore opted to start over. This time it was second-year tight end Bryce Myers who was stopped just short of the marker. The opportunity for Priore to correct his mistakes and attempt the field goal presented itself for the third time on Penn’s first possession in the second half. Facing a fourth and three at the Big Green 28, Priore inexplicably tried to start again. The Quakers fell short a third time, however, with Sayin’s pass incomplete.

While many Quaker fans have clamored for Priore to be more aggressive in these situations, situational awareness is important. Knowing how to go for a field goal and play the scorecard in the second half – especially after failing twice before a fourth down – is just as important as choosing to go for it fourth and goal from the one-yard line in the minute opening.

While Penn was able to overcome those three turnovers against Dartmouth, it will be difficult to continue doing so, especially when he faces other strong Ivy teams such as Princeton and Harvard later on.

The Quaker defense held on as long as they could on Friday. Timely stops, check. Constantly pressure the quarterback and prevent big runs, check. Constantly forcing negative plays from Dartmouth’s powerful offense, check. Penn’s only regulation touchdown – his first of the season – came after a punt left Dartmouth with just 37 yards in the end zone.

While after three games it’s fair to say that Penn has a title-caliber defense, the offense needs to improve its consistency to put points on the board to support them and allow them to play more comfortably.

Sayin may not have had the best night, but he showed some big guts under fire on Penn’s last regulation possession. After the missed field goal, the second was able to comfortably execute the Quakers’ two-minute offense, leading his team 52 yards down the field in 13 plays, highlighted by a pitch and catch against the senior wideout Malone Howley for 19 yards. to put Penn within goal range.

After Gotlieb’s 35-yard kick, Les Rouge et Bleu received the ball first in extra time. Sayin used his legs to get closer to striking distance, before calmly tossing a five-yard ball to junior wide receiver Joshua Casilli for the go-ahead score. And after the special teams unit stepped up and made a huge block on Dartmouth’s 2OT placement try, Sayin sounded audible at a running play, which Flowers took 24 yards to the goal line, to establish the winning score.

Although less than 10 starts in his young career, Sayin clearly seems to have already earned the respect and trust of his teammates and head coach.

The main key to the Quakers victory in this game was in the air: Sayin finished with 204 yards and a score on 25-38 passes, making several timely throws, while Howard, despite rushing for 108 yards and two scores, couldn’t make any key throws. when it mattered most in overtime. The Quakers defense held Howard to a meager 12-22 pass for 78 yards.

Leaning heavily on the “run the ball and stop the run” mantra, Penn was able to do both effectively, rushing for 137 yards and two rushing touchdowns, and holding Dartmouth’s rushing offense ahead of FCS at just 193 yards, roughly half their season average. While the Quakers were able to avoid many missed opportunities to earn the win, they will need to find a way to consistently capitalize on their scoring opportunities to win during the brunt of Ivy League play.

EASHWAR KANTEMNENI is an associate sports editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian and is a junior from the College of Cincinnati studying neuroscience. He can be reached at [email protected]

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