Quaker oatmeal

Jon Albert

Head Coach Andy Talley’s team did on Saturday night what it has continued to do for nearly 100 years: beat the Penn Quakers. The ‘Cats, who haven’t lost to their Big 5 rival since 1911, scrapped their way to a hard-fought 22-10 victory under the lights of Villanova Stadium.

After a sluggish start and injuries to key players, the ‘Cats were able to come from behind in the fourth quarter to score 13 unanswered points. A touchdown reception by junior wide receiver Norman White and an interception-turned-touchdown by junior cornerback James Pitts in a span of less than two minutes ended up being the deciding scores.

The game began with both teams testing out their ground game. Nine of the Wildcats’ 11 plays in the first quarter were running plays, as well as 10 of 11 for the Quakers. Neither of the two teams was able to establish much of an offensive rhythm in the quarter, and it remained scoreless at the end of the first frame.

But even though the score was tied, the ‘Cats’ chances of victory took a big hit with an injury to senior all-purpose back Matt Szczur. Szczur suffered a sprained ankle during the first quarter and did not return. Also injured was senior linebacker Anthony Johnson, with a sprained knee.

“I’ve never seen this type of injury situation at our place,” Talley said. “It’s just beyond belief. We have guys with ankles and knees, and I have not had this kind of stuff. Even though we won the game we took a lot of injuries. We had a lot of guys hurt going in but came out even worse.”

Despite the injuries and surrendering the opening touchdown of the game to the Quakers, the Wildcats did not stop fighting. After going three and out immediately following the Penn touchdown, Talley’s team was given a gift when the ensuing Penn shotgun snap went over Penn quarterback Billy Ragone’s head and out of the endzone for a Villanova safety.

The ‘Cats moved the ball on the next drive better than they had at any point prior, taking advantage of the short field by going 42 yards in seven plays, culminating in a one yard touchdown run from senior running back Angelo Babbaro. The score would remain the same at halftime, with the ‘Cats clinging to a 9-7 lead.

Penn received the ball at the beginning of the second half and moved the ball quickly down the field before stalling near the Wildcat 20. Quaker kicker Andrew Samson’s 38-yard field goal was no good, but the ‘Cats were equally as unproductive on offense, having their drive hit a roadblock at midfield.

Later in the quarter, facing a fourth and one, junior punter Dominic Scarnecchia was a victim of a roughing the kicker call that gave the ‘Cats a first down. A few plays later, senior running back Aaron Ball took off for a 51-yard run that seemed destined for the endzone, but came up short when a Penn defender punched the ball out of Ball’s hand inside the 10-yard line.

Penn recovered the fumble and drove the ball the length of the field to the Villanova two-yard line, where they had to settle for a 19-yard field goal, making the score 10-9 Quakers.

That would be the end of Quaker scoring for the day, as senior quarterback Chris Whitney led the ‘Cats on a much-needed touchdown drive. The score was on third and six from the 21-yard line, where Whitney lofted a beautiful pass to Norman White in the corner of the endzone. The two-point attempt failed, and ‘Nova kicked off with 4:29 remaining holding a 15-10 lead.

That lead would grow quickly. On the second play of the following Penn drive, Pitts jumped the route of a Penn receiver to intercept Ragone. Pitts returned the interception for a touchdown, the second score of his career.

The victory was the 13th in a row for the Wildcats at Villanova Stadium, where they have won 21 of their last 22 games.

And while this victory was important, the ‘Cats will likely need a better offensive performance from a unit that was only able to score 14 points. If Szczur is out for the team’s matchup Saturday against William & Mary, the team will need to have a more diversified offensive attack.

That matchup between top-10 Football Championship Subdivision teams will take place Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Williamsburg, Va.