Penn gets 800th win, honors Owen Thomas, Staffieri
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The defending Ivy League champion Penn Quakers opened the 2010 season on a somber note Saturday at Franklin Field.
The impeccable, lightly breezy weather betrayed the heavy emotional tone, as a 40-second moment of silence was held prior to kickoff, honoring fallen Quakers' Owen Thomas and Dan Staffieri.
Staffieri, or "Coach Lake," as he was affectionately known, spent 33 years as an assistant coach at Penn. Acting as a "spirit coach," Staffieri was beloved for his upbeat attitude and numerous encouraging phrases, such as, "setbacks lead to comebacks." Staffieri succumbed to bladder cancer this offseason at the age of 85.
Owen Thomas, a 2009 second-team All-Ivy league defensive end, committed suicide this past April. It was the second such tragedy to hit Penn in the past five years, as running Kyle Ambrogi took his own life during the 2005 season.
Last season, Thomas recorded six sacks for a Penn squad which finished first in the FCS in total and scoring defense. Prior to the tragedy, Thomas was named one of four captains by his teammates.
Thomas' roommates Justin Cosgrove, Luke DeLuca, David Macknett, and Adam Triglia, who are all currently on Penn's roster and shared the apartment where Thomas was found, gathered at midfield pregame to participate in the coin toss.
"It was tough," said defensive back Jon Saelinger when asked about the moment of silence. "We really just wanted to play for Owen. I thought it was a really good gesture."
Perhaps it was the overwhelming emotional nature of the evening which led to a sloppy opening half for Penn. Following an early 43-yard field goal by Andrew Samson, the Quakers committed three consecutive turnovers, two of which led to immediate scores.
With 12:45 remaining in the second quarter, Lafayette's Ben Eaton blocked a Scott Lopano punt, which was recovered by Kyni Scott in the end zone for a touchdown, giving Lafayette a 7-3 lead.
On Penn's next possession Lafayette's Michael Phillips picked off a Ryan Becker pass and returned it 25-yards for a score.
Penn's second score came on a 36-yard field goal by Samson, and Lafayette held a 14-6 halftime lead.
In the second half, sophomore quarterback Billy Ragone was inserted and added a spark to the Quakers' offense. Last season, a knee injury suffered in Week 3 sidelined Ragone for the year. Prior to the injury, Ragone was named the Ivy League Newcomer of the Week following a stellar performance against Dartmouth.
"We were looking for a bit of consistency, and we weren't playing as well as we are capable of playing on offense," said Penn coach Al Bagnoli. "We were trying to get a spark and fortunately we have quality depth at the quarterback position and we went with the hot hand."
Ragone led Penn on a nine-play, 61-yard drive in the middle of the third quarter, culminating with a beautifully executed five-yard fade to Matt Tuten in the back corner of the end zone, which pulled Penn within one, 14-13.
Penn scored the go-ahead and deciding touchdown with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter, as Lyle Marsh bulled his way into the end zone from 12 yards out. The run capped a 75-yard drive in which the Quakers attempted only one pass. Running back Brandon Colavita was impressive, churning out hard-fought yard after hard-fought yard as the offense methodically worked its way down the field over 7 1/2 minutes.
The defense was sound from whistle to whistle and has not allowed an offensive touchdown in over nine quarters. Defensive back Jon Saelinger recorded three interceptions in the contest.
For Bagnoli as his players, the victory is dampened by the circumstances surrounding the game. But clearly, the game itself acted as an outlet, allowing the team to escape some of the psychological and emotional trauma which haunted them this offseason.
"I thought it was a huge relief," said Bagnoli.
Clearly, this will be a long and slow recovery. One game will not repair such a large and fresh wound, but Penn did have many positives to take away.
The return of Ragone, recovering from a season-ending injury to lead his to team a victory in Week 1, is uplifting.
It also marks the 800th career victory for the Ivy League school.
Not so uplifting: Penn's next opponent, defending FCS champions Villanova.
09/19 00:08:24 ET