WEST HAVEN, Conn. - Penn quarterback Billy Ragone grew up just a few miles down the road from the Yale Bowl. So whenever he travels north to face the Bulldogs, he inevitably ends up being the center of attention.
That was the case again Saturday, but likely not for a reason Ragone would have wanted. The Cheshire, Conn., native threw an interception midway through the third quarter that turned the game decisively in Yale's favor, and led to a 27-13 Penn loss.
It is the first time Penn (2-4, 2-1 Ivy League) has lost to Yale since 2007. Every year since then, Penn had started Ivy League play 3-0, with wins over the Bulldogs (2-4, 1-2 Ivy) and perennial underachievers Dartmouth and Columbia.
"We just really did a poor job of converting opportunities," Bagnoli said, lamenting his team's ability to "jump in front and take away from steam from them."
As was the case last week against the Lions, Penn's rush defense was a major weak spot. After giving up 196 yards on the ground to Columbia, the Quakers were gashed for 203 yards this week. Tyler Varga led the way for Yale with 96 net yards on 26 carries, while Mordecai Cargill ran seven times for 43 yards.
Yale backup quarterback Derek Russell - who took the field when starter Eric Williams was injured during the first quarter - ran 11 times for 64 yards. He also completed 13 of 20 pass attempts for 94 yards and one touchdown.
Bagnoli gave credit to the Bulldogs' offense for a good performance. But he added that his team's health has been a concern lately, as some players have not recovered from early non-conference tests against Villanova and William & Mary.
"Coming off those early games, we're still not close to being 100 percent," Bagnoli said. "We obviously have to do a better job in those scenarios, but let's give credit to [Yale]."
Penn defensive tackle and team captain Brandon Copeland admitted to his part in the defense's struggles.
"I missed a bunch of tackles today," he said. "We're not bringing them down on first contact."
Both teams mostly traded punts in a scoreless first quarter. Penn's best drive was a rush-heavy 11-play drive that got the Quakers to Yale's three-yard line midway through the quarter. But they could get no further, and Connor Loftus missed a 21-yard field goal from the left hash mark to keep the game scoreless.
Yale's offense got a spark early in the second quarter from dual-threat quarterback Derek Russell, who replaced starter Eric Williams after he suffered an injury. But Mordecai Cargill fumbled the ball away at the Penn 11-yard line under pressure from Quakers defensive back Mike Laning, snuffing out the drive.
Penn finally got the scoreboard moving with a quarterback change of its own. Andrew Holland stepped in for Billy Ragone and led an aerial assault on Yale's defense that got the Quakers to the Bulldogs' two-yard line.
After rushes by Greg Schuster and Jeff Jack were stopped short, Holland fired a three-yard touchdown pass to Lyle Marsh with five minutes, 52 seconds left in the first half.
It took the Bulldogs until two and a half minutes remained in the half to finally get their first score of the day, a 43-yard field goal by Phillipe Panico. But they went on to take a 10-7 lead into halftime when Logan Scott - Yale's third quarterback of the day - threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Henry Furman with 18 seconds left in the quarter.
(By the way, all of Yale's scores came with the scoreboard clock broken. It went down with 2:27 left in the first half and didn't come back for the rest of the game.)
Yale extended its lead to 17-7 midway through the third quarter. After Brian Leffler picked off Ragone and returned the interception 47 yards to the Penn four-yard line, Russell found Elijah Thomas with a four-yard touchdown pass.
Penn responded on the ensuing drive, as Connor Loftus hit a 34-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 17-10. But Yale came right back down the field, and Panico re-extended the Bulldogs' lead to 10 points with a 42-yard field goal.
Loftus connected on another field goal early in the fourth quarter, this time from 27 yards, to bring Penn within 20-13.
But the Quakers' defense prevented them from getting any closer. Mordecai Cargill converted on consecutive third downs, first with a grinding run and then with a 19-yard pass reception that took Yale to Penn's 16-yard line. Three plays later, the Bulldogs were in the end zone again as Russell charged over the goal line from three yards out.
That gave Yale a 27-13 lead with eight minutes to go. Though Ragone led a dramatic Penn rally from 10 points down with about the same amount of time remaining last weekend, Quakers coach Al Bagnoli put Holland in at quarterback due to his stronger passing game.
Holland was unable to produce any late-game heroics, though. He was sacked on fourth down with 6:12 left in the game, and Ragone failed to convert a fourth down a few minutes later. That put any hope of a comeback out of reach.
After the game, Bagnoli defended his decision to continue using two quarterbacks. He called Ragone "high-risk with his running style," and "maybe a little too excited" to be playing close to home.
"A lot of [Ragone's] balls sailed today - they didn't have the crispness that he's had in the past," Bagnoli said. "I know he was probably pressing a bit."