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Bears seek victory over defending Ivy champs

Leading scorer John Spooney ’14 returns to the backfield for a battle against Ivy-leading Penn

After a couple disappointing conference losses early this season, Bruno has a chance to make some noise in the Ivy League with a victory Saturday at Brown Stadium against defending Ivy League champion Penn.

The Quakers (4-2, Ivy 3-0) have frequently appeared at the top of the conference in recent years, and they have taken home the league championship trophy three of the last four seasons. A hot start has them tied with Princeton (5-1, 3-0) for first in the Ivy League once again this season.

Ivy League title hopes are slim for the Bears (4-2, 1-2) but not extinguished. Bruno picked up its first Ivy win in a 42-35 shootout over Cornell last weekend, and a statement victory over Penn could propel the squad into a position to make a late-season run for the crown. Players are carrying this mindset into Saturday’s contest, said quarterback and co-captain Patrick Donnelly ’13.5.

“From here on out every game is a must-win, especially against a team like Penn,” he said. “It left a bad taste in our mouth — the way the game ended last year — so it’s going to be a big game for us.”

Last year in Philadelphia, Penn used two field goals late in the fourth quarter to edge the Bears 20-17. But getting the Quakers on Brown’s home field this year might be enough to swing the outcome in the Bruno’s favor, said Head Coach Phil Estes.

“Last week it was a long trip at Cornell, and it’s good to be back home,” he said.

Both offenses picked up Ivy wins last week despite sitting their best player due to injury. For the Bears, leading rusher and top scorer John Spooney ’14 was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, but he is expected to be back in action this weekend. The Quakers missed star quarterback Billy Ragone’s presence last week due to a lingering ankle injury, and Penn Head Coach Al Bagnoli said at a midweek press conference that the senior is questionable for Saturday’s game.

Spooney’s big play capabilities — two 70-yard touchdown runs — and contribution to the running game could make a big difference Saturday because the Penn defense allows the fewest passing yards in the conference. If the Quakers can shut down Donnelly’s aerial attack the way they have against most opponents this season, the Bears will likely turn to Spooney for offense. If Spooney needs a spell, Andrew Coke ’16 and Jordan Riesner ’14 put up big numbers against Cornell last week and could power the ground attack.

The status of Ragone’s ankle might be a major tipping point entering the game. Bagnoli said in the press conference that the injury is particularly problematic because Ragone’s strength comes with running the ball. Estes was quick to point to the opposing quarterback as Penn’s biggest weapon.

“Ragone, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league,” Estes said. “He’s a winner. He’s a very strong runner, he can throw the football and he has a lot of tools.”

If Ragone cannot go, senior Ryan Becker is a capable backup who led the team to victory over Yale last week.

Ragone and Spooney aside, the matchup to watch may be Donnelly and his receivers against the Penn secondary, the only defensive backfield in the conference to allow less than 200 yards per game. The Bruno signal-caller has thrown for over 290 yards in two of the last three games, thanks in large part to two games of over 100 yard receiving by wideout Jordan Evans ’14.

“(Jordan and I) have played together for a while,” Donnelly said of their successful combination. “Jordan is a guy I talk to a lot, and it’s more just having trust in each other.”

The clash will be nationally televised and carries major Ivy League title implications. Estes said the Bears can prevail if they limit long scoring runs that hurt them in conference losses to Princeton and Harvard (5-1, 2-1).

“Somewhere within the game, we tend to have a quarter where things go a little haywire,” he said. “We have to do a better job of executing the game plan the whole way.”


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