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‘A terrific day for Brown football’: Bears stun Penn in dramatic home upset

Backup quarterback Aidan Gilman ’23 helps hand Quakers first loss of season

<p>Wide receiver Wes Rockett ’23 posted 138 receiving yards, the most of his Brown career, to lead the Bears on the day.</p><p>Courtesy of Chip DeLorenzo via Brown Athletics</p>

Wide receiver Wes Rockett ’23 posted 138 receiving yards, the most of his Brown career, to lead the Bears on the day.

Courtesy of Chip DeLorenzo via Brown Athletics

On Saturday afternoon at Brown Stadium, the football team (3-4, 1-4 Ivy League) did something no other squad had this season: beat the Penn Quakers (6-1, 3-1).

“It was just an amazing game by two really good teams playing very, very good football,” said Head Coach James Perry ’00. “Penn (is) undefeated for a reason. They’re an excellent team and they played like it. We knew what we were in for. … How (we) played, it kind of speaks for itself. (It was) a great game and a terrific day for Brown football.”

Beyond the upset victory, the game was full of twists. The Bears were without starting quarterback Jake Willcox ’24 for the final three quarters of the game. Willcox was removed with an injury following a dominant first quarter in which he went 14-for-15 to tally 115 passing yards.

Replacing Willcox was backup QB Aidan Gilman ’23, who impressed instantly with a 15-yard quarterback rush for his first yards of the afternoon. Gilman then led the offense in back-to-back touchdown drives.

“Every week, every quarterback in the room is gonna prep to be the starter,” Gilman said. “It was my turn to go up and lead this offense, and I took the opportunity and I think I made the most of it.”

Gilman is “just a very resilient kid,” Perry said. “He practices hard, he really helps and supports Jake. So for me, calling plays, I didn’t skip a beat, because I (know) the command that he has over the offense.”

After Gilman’s first touchdown pass — a bullet down the middle of the field that was confirmed complete after a review — Willcox and other teammates dashed out from the sidelines to congratulate the senior, who had just six pass attempts in the season prior to the game against Penn.

“We’re brothers,” Gilman said. There is “no one I want to see more succeed than him and vice versa.”

“What I was pleased by is … how much everyone rallied around him,” Perry said. “It probably doesn’t hurt that one of his first runs he showed his toughness, run(ning) down the middle of the field. … I’m very proud of him.”

Aided by several critical calls from the referees, Willcox and Gilman helped the Bears jump out to a 24-7 lead at the half. The offensive outburst came in spite of a strong Penn defensive line, which Perry called the best in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Meanwhile, the Bears’ defense was airtight in the first half, following up on last week’s strong performance in a loss to Cornell, in which the team allowed a season-low 331 yards. The lone Penn touchdown in the first half came off a 97-yard kick return by Quaker receiver Julien Stokes.

“They’re a really good team and coming off a tough loss like we did last week, we wanted to come out and just do what we were gonna do,” said defensive back Josh Ofili ’23, who provided one of the most memorable plays of the afternoon catching a pass that tipped off a Penn receiver’s hands for an interception in the second quarter. “We played really well in the first half not letting them score any points.”

The early lead was a change of pace for Bruno, who led at the half in just one other matchup this season, a victory against Central Connecticut State University. The team has tended to do most of their damage late in games, outscoring opponents 68-28 in the fourth quarter going into the Penn game.

“We've ended games really well, but we also wanted to have that same energy, that same support of each other, in the beginning of the game too,” Gilman said. “So that was a big emphasis this week.”

The Quakers stormed back in the third quarter, tying things up with 17 unanswered points. After a Bears field goal at the start of the fourth period, Penn took their first lead of the afternoon on running back Jonathan Mulatu’s second touchdown rush of the game.

With less than two minutes left on the clock, the Bears snatched back the lead on a touchdown pass from Gilman to captain Allen Smith ’22.5. A final stop from the defense finally secured the Bears’ victory by a score of 34-31.

In addition to Gilman and Ofili, several other Bears provided standout performances contributing to the win. Defenders Aubrey Parker ’24 and Kaleb Ross ’25 each set career marks for tackles with nine and eight, respectively. Wes Rockett ’23, the team’s top receiver, totaled a career-high 138 yards, while Nate Lussier ’24 got the first touchdown of his Bears career on a second-quarter rush and receiver Graham Walker ’24 caught a touchdown pass in his second game returning from injury.

“This is a remarkable group, and it was a remarkable win,” Perry said. “You're playing an undefeated Penn team, you're coming off the week that we had, and for them just to continue to pull for each other, … it's really a credit to terrific senior leadership and a great locker room. So I think everybody who loves Brown football would have said it's hard to think of a better win than the one we just had.”

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“I’m just fully confident — we will play better,” Perry added. “We will play our best football these last three weeks.”

With their season approaching its final stretch, the Bears return to action on the road next weekend against Yale, whose only conference loss so far came against Penn. The game will be available to stream on ESPN+, as well as broadcast on NESN.



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