Not much has gone as expected so far here in Philadelphia as far as football goes. Start with Temple beating Penn State 27-10 three weeks ago to end a 39-game, 74 year string of futility. Add in the unexpected pratfall by Chip Kelly’s Eagles, who seemed so full of promise, only to look so dreadful at the start the season.
But this may have been the piece de resistance. Thursday night — a game moved up two nights in deference to the Papal visit — Penn beat No. 5 ranked Villanova 24-13. If you happened to be alive the last time that happened, then you’re at least 104 years old.
If you happen to be Ray Priore, who watched Al Bagnoli go 0-13 vs. good friend Andy Talley and the Wildcats as Bagnoli’s loyal assistant, you’ve already done something your predecessor never did.
“You never know when the first one is going to come,” said Priore, after the 1-1 Quakers controlled the ball an for more than 38 of the game’s first 49 minutes, while building a 17-0 lead. "It feels great. Going into it we knew we’ve had a great rivalry through the years with Villanova, but we’ve had a hard road the last couple of years when the score has gotten a little bit out of place. We talked about belief and trust in each other and these guys were inspired. It was unbelievable.”
It was also Penn’s first ever road win over a top five ranked team, which snapped a 14-game losing streak against the Wildcats. And while it would be easy to say they beat a crippled Villanova team missing not only All-American quarterback John Robertson, but three starting offensive lineman and a safety on defense, the fact is the Quakers — at least on this night — were clearly the better team.
“Through the years we’ve tried different tactics,” said Priore, who’d watched ‘Nova dominate 34-6 and 41-7 the last two seasons as defensive coordinator. “But facing the fifth ranked team in the country we knew we wanted to minimize their possessions — and anytime the ball was within the 40’s we were gonna go for it on fourth down.
“The game’s about having the ball. Whoever has the ball wins.”
How prophetic, considering the way Penn controlled the ball, scoring on a nine- play 75-yard drive off the opening kickoff maintaining possession 12:18 in the first. That pattern played out consistently through the half, as Penn took a 14-0 lead to the locker room on pair of Alek Torgersen-to-Justin Watson touchdown passes, nearly missing a third when Villanova’s Malik Reaves took the ball away from Watson in the end zone just before intermission.
It was more of the same in the third, as Jimmy Gammill’s 40- yard field goal made it 17-0, then Penn chewed up the first four minutes of the fourth before Torgersen’s pooch punt started the’Cats on their own eight. Only then did ‘Nova show signs of life —getting one touchdown, then driving to try to make it a one score game.
But those hopes were extinguished when Javon White fumbled and Ponciello scooped it up and took it to the house, setting off a wild red-and-blue celebration 104 years in the making.
“It’s something we’ve been working for,” said senior defensive end Tyler Drake. “Defensively we knew we had to create turnovers to win the game. In years past we weren’t able to do that. Today it really helped our offense.”
With California kid Torgersen leading the way, throwing for 171 yards and those two scores, the offense wouldn’t be denied this time. In the process they pulled off an unlikely upset many deemed bigger than Temple’s.
“It’s crazy,’’ gushed Torgersen, upon hearing the last time it happened Franklin Field was 13 years old.. “ Obviously, this rivalry has had an illustrious history.
"For us to break that streak it’s unbelievable."
Except not this year, where the unexpected has become the rule rather than the exception.