The football team’s four-game winning streak looked to be in good shape for the first six minutes of Saturday’s contest against Penn at Brown Stadium. But at some point over the course of the 41-0 Quaker run that followed, it became clear that the Bears’ streak would end in flames.
Bruno Head Coach Phil Estes P’18 and Penn Head Coach Ray Priore quickly made identical diagnoses of the lopsided 48-28 game.
“We turned the ball over, and you don’t win football games that way,” Estes said. “You lose them pretty bad.”
“Seems like it’s the key to every football game — we were plus-three in turnovers,” Priore said. “If you can capitalize, it’s all momentum.”
The box score supports the coaches’ claims. Not only did Bruno cough up five turnovers to Penn’s two, but the Quakers also turned the first four of them into touchdowns on the ensuing drives. The fifth touchdown came in the final minute — a fitting punctuation for the Quaker’s dominant game.
“Our three losses have been about us beating ourselves more than the other team beating us,” Estes said.
Each time the Bears made a mistake, a formidable Quaker ground attack capitalized. When the ball was in Penn’s hands, the formula was clear: run up the middle again and again. In 52 rushing attempts, the Quakers cut through the Bruno interior like a warm knife through butter. Their 263 rushing yards came in consistent chunks, never breaking a run of greater than 16 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
Much of the Bears’ defensive struggles can be attributed to a banged-up defensive line. Priore said his team planned to exploit the numerous injuries in Bruno’s interior, and when this strategy worked early, the Quakers had no reason to stop running the same play.
“Our defense is so beat up right now,” Estes said, lamenting the injuries to defensive captain Zach Sparber ’15.5 and his fellow defensive tackles Tom Kutschke ’17 and Jake Walther ’16. “We have two freshmen starting on the defensive line.”
Bruno’s depleted defense stung it early. The Bears marched the field for a Johnny Pena ’17 touchdown in their first drive to claim a 7-0 lead, but the momentum evaporated when the Quakers rattled off four touchdowns in a five-drive stretch. Quaker receiver Justin Watson erased Bruno’s lead on the first chance he got, finding a seam for a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
In its next two touchdown drives, Penn marched 64 and 80 yards, respectively, without facing a third down of longer than two yards. Trailing 21-7, the Bears gave the Quakers a gift they did not need: an errant snap that Penn recovered inside the red zone. For good measure, Quaker quarterback Alek Torgersen authored a quick drive to sneak in a fifth touchdown before half.
The Bears had “a terrible first half,” Estes said.
The second half brought Bruno relief from the Quaker onslaught, as the Bears mounted a modest comeback.
Receiver Troy Doles ’16 made the first dent in Penn’s 41-7 lead by corralling an 19-yard touchdown between two defenders. After Bruno’s defense finally suppressed a Penn drive, Alex Jette ’17 trimmed the deficit further. Jette made a tremendous leaping catch to open the possession, fighting the sideline and three Quaker defenders to pull down a jump ball. Two plays later, he blew past the secondary for a 34-yard score.
With the lead down 20 points, Grant Senne ’16 surprised everyone with a perfect onside kick, which Jordan Ferguson ’17 smothered for the Bears. The crowd was rejuvenated momentarily, but the rally died on the next play when a Fuller pass fell into the hands of Penn’s Sam Philippi.
Fuller “underthrew it,” Estes said. “If he threw it over the top, we would have been cheering because it’s a two-score game.”
Priore and the Penn players said even during Bruno’s third-quarter run, the Quaker mood was optimistic.
“We stayed pretty level-headed. I don’t think there was too much worry,” Philippi said. “But there was definitely an understanding that we needed to play well on defense.”
Penn scored on its next possession to seal the win.
As the game began to get away from Bruno, the team turned to a pass-only offense. Even in the ugliness, Fuller and the talented receiving corps put up big numbers. The one-two punch of Jette and Doles continued its impressive season, with the former racking up 145 yards and a touchdown and the latter adding 98 yards and a score of his own. Fuller finished his up-and-down performance with some good — 323 yards and two touchdowns — and a lot of bad — four costly interceptions.
“I’m not going to let this game define where we are right now after four straight wins,” Estes said, citing the youth on defense and the turnover troubles as two areas to improve before next week’s battle at Yale.