COLLEGE FOOTBALL Quakers stun Pioneers with late score
FAIRFIELD — Their offense was lethargic. Their defense was bullied. Their special teams — particularly the kicking game — were unproductive.
Nothing seemed to be going Sacred Heart’s way out of the gates against Penn. The Pioneers found themselves trailing by 17 at halftime and had given a Homecoming crowd of 4,503 no reason to believe that the final two quarters would be any different from the first two.
Except they were different, drastically different. And yet, it didn’t matter.
The Pioneers staged a furious rally, ripping off 27 unanswered points to take their first lead with just under 10 minutes remaining. However, Penn rallied, scoring late to steal a 31-27 victory Saturday afternoon at Campus Field.
“It’s deflating,” said Pioneers quarterback Kevin Duke, who was 11-of-22 for 189 yards through the air and rushed for 70 yards. “You play for 58 minutes and it doesn’t go your way, it sucks. We’ve got to take the next step. ... It sucks, this one hurts bad.”
Penn (3-1) delivered when it mattered most, marching 87 yards in eight plays in just one minute and 54 seconds. Ryan Glover’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Christian Pearson gave the Quakers the lead for good with 1:19 remaining. It was a punch to the gut of the Pioneers, who stunningly had come all the way back from 24-0 down.
“To lose like we did, it hurts,” head coach Mark Nofri said. “It goes back to not playing in the first half like we are capable of playing. We decided not to turn until the second half. The first half we dug ourselves a hole and we climbed all the way out of it. We took a lead and had an opportunity to win it, but we didn’t.”
Defensive end Aaron Donalson made an acrobatic play to put the Pioneers in front, batting an option pitch from Glover out of the air. Donalson picked up the loose ball and returned it 21 yards give the Pioneers a 27-24 lead with 9:54 remaining.
The Pioneers (3-2) had a chance to salt the game away, but Nofri passed up a fourth-and-1 opportunity at the Quakers’ 48 in favor of a punt. Glover (15-of-20, 162 yards, two touchdowns) and the Quakers responded with the game-defining drive.
Asked if he thought about going for it in that situation, Nofri replied: “I wasn’t going to give them the ball at midfield, no. The percentages and me, I was going to kick the ball away and pin them. It was inside the 20-yard line. I put my defense on the field with two minutes, and they had no timeouts. I figured with no timeouts and two minutes to go and pinning them, all we needed was one stop.”
The Pioneers never made that stop.
“It’s a lesson for us,” Donalson said. “We came out flat. We can’t be down 17-0 at halftime and expect to (win).”
Jordan Meachum (17 carries, 71 yards) rushed for two touchdowns in the third quarter to pull Sacred Heart within 24-14. The Pioneers would trim that deficit to just three before the fourth quarter thanks to Duke’s 53-yard scoring strike to RJ Trimble-Edwards.
“We came out in the first half and played really well,” Penn head coach Ray Priore said. “Those guys were on their heels a little bit. We gained great momentum the first drive of the second half, we went down and scored. I think all we did is we took our foot off the accelerator. When you give a good team an opportunity to come back like that, you’re going to have problems.”
Penn totaled 485 yards of offense, a significant portion coming from running back Karekin Brooks (28 carries, 191 yards and one touchdown). The Quakers held leads of 17-0 at halftime and 24-0 with 11:59 left in the third quarter.
The Pioneers, who have now lost back-to-back games after a 3-0 start, had three kicks blocked on the afternoon: field-goal attempts of 44 and 33 yards, along with an extra point.