In cold and rainy conditions at Brown Stadium Saturday, the Bears fought their way through the mud to a hard-earned 6-0 victory over two-time defending champion Penn. The win was Brown's (6-1, 3-1 Ivy) fifth straight and the first loss for Penn (4-3, 3-1 Ivy) in its last 18 league games.
"It was a wet, miserable and muddy day," Head Coach Phil Estes said. "And we enjoyed every minute of it."
Two field goals from Alex Norocea '14 made the win, proving to be all the Bears would need. Norocea connected on a 39-yarder in the second quarter to draw first blood and split the uprights from 42 yards out in the third quarter to make the score 6-0.
"We practice in all these different conditions, and we had no idea how far out we'd be able to go and have him kick it," Estes said. "Because of the footing, the mud, the wind — it was just a gut feeling to kick it, and when we did, I said, ‘Wow, he made it.'"
Brown's attack was without its top two rushers, Mark Kachmer '13 and John Spooney '14, who were both out with injury. Cody Taulbee '14 got the bulk of the carries in their place and was the Bears' top rusher, grinding out 49 yards on 18 carries in sloppy conditions. A 235-pound fullback, Taulbee offers a more physical and north-south running style than the speedy Kachmer and Spooney.
"It was made for having a big tailback, these conditions," Estes said. "We actually just started running Cody Taulbee on Wednesday to see what he could do just in case it was going to be muddy, and he was very good."
"He also has a little shake for someone that big," Estes added.
The passing offense was rendered ineffective by the adverse conditions, and quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero '11.5 only mustered 140 yards on 14 completions. Alex Tounkara-Kone '11.5 led the Bruno receivers with five catches for 56 yards.
Brown's defense played just as pivotal a role as the weather, recording its second shutout of 2011. Before this season, the Bears had not recorded a shutout since 1990. Linebacker Daniel Smithwick '12 led the way with seven tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
Brown's defense held Penn quarterback Billy Ragone to a horrifying stat-line of 6-15 for 32 yards and three interceptions. The Bears also recovered two fumbles to cap a five-turnover day.
"We just felt we were in control," said cornerback A.J. Cruz '13. "We were ready to play, and we executed."
Both teams moved the ball in the first quarter but were unable to put points on the board. Brown entered inside the Quakers' 25-yard line but had to punt after a big loss. Later in the quarter, Penn recovered a fumble on a dropped punt return in Brown territory. After a hopeful drive, Penn kicker Connor Loftus pushed wide a 28-yard attempt.
Norocea's first field goal came after Brown began a drive with great field position at the Quakers' 45-yard line. Big gains on catches by Tounkara-Kone and Tellef Lundevall '13 moved the ball into field goal range, and Norocea did the rest.
Penn looked poised to get on the scoreboard as halftime neared, ripping off big gains on the ground to move toward the Brown red zone. But running back Brandon Colavita had nowhere to go on third-and-one, and on the fourth-down try, Smithwick tracked down a scrambling Ragone in the open field and tackled him just short of the first down marker.
In the third quarter, Norocea doubled Brown's lead to cap a drive that started at the Bears' own 14-yard line. A pair of key scrambles by Newhall-Caballero helped move Bruno into field goal range.
After burning all three of their timeouts late in the fourth quarter, Penn got its final chance when it got the ball back at its own 47-yard line with just 2:29 remaining on the clock. But on the drive's first play, Ragone overthrew his receiver, and Mel Farr '12 picked off the errant ball, sealing the win for Brown.
While Estes was well aware that the win broke Penn's streak — the second-longest in Ivy League history — he said his team approached the game no differently than it would any other.
"We didn't talk about that," Estes said. "We just wanted to play Penn and the team we saw on film."
The victory moves Brown into a three-way tie for second place in the Ivy League standings with Penn and Yale (4-3, 3-1). Harvard (6-1, 4-0) is currently in first place in the league. In yet another all-important Ivy matchup with championship implications, the Bears will travel to New Haven to take on the Bulldogs next week.
"It's just as satisfying week in and week out to get that ‘W,'" Cruz said. "We've got to put this one to bed after we watch film and get ready for Yale."