By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — For eight years, most of my Wednesday afternoons in the fall were spent enjoying lunch with two college football legends, Villanova’s Andy Talley and Al Bagnoli of Penn.
The conversation was always guaranteed to be better than the food, which is more a statement on the company, rather than the cuisine.
Bagnoli has always been a person who wears his emotions on his sleeve, whether it was wandering the sidelines of Franklin Field, or armed with a fork and knife in the dining room.
He was usually at his surliest in the days before the annual game between Penn and Villanova, where he would match wits with one of his best friends, Talley.
Bagnoli always felt he was at a disadvantage against Talley and the Wildcats and despite some memorable efforts by the Quakers, Penn never beat Villanova in 13 tries during Bagnoli’s impressive, 23-year UP reign.
So on Thursday evening, Bagnoli had to be laughing at the irony that his longtime defensive coordinator and Penn successor Ray Priore had ended a 104-year streak of futility with a 24-13 victory over Villanova.
Penn’s last win in the series had come on Oct. 14, 1911 at Franklin Field. The streak buster, even more surprisingly was the Quakers’ first ever at Villanova Stadium and it ended a 14-game losing streak for Penn against the Wildcats, 13 of them coming against Talley.
Adding even more to this night of the bizarre was the fact that Penn was coming off its season-opening 42-21 loss to a mediocre Lehigh squad. The victory was the first-ever road win for the Quakers over a top-five ranked opponent.
Bagnoli had announced before the 2014 season that he would retire from Penn for a job as a fundraiser in the Quaker athletic department. That gig lasted all of three months before Columbia came up with an offer that this future College Football Hall of Famer couldn’t refuse.
So when Penn finally broke through, Bagnoli wasn’t even in the house — he was in New York City, preparing his Columbia Lions for a Saturday afternoon game at home with Georgetown.
Now, Bagnoli concerns are on ending a 21-game Columbia losing streak, something that could happen at home on Saturday, or maybe even on Oct. 17 when his Lions host his old team at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium.
In between those two games are an Oct. 2 trip to Princeton and an Oct. 10 home game against Wagner.
BAD OMENS FOR THE CATS
Playing following an emotional rivalry win against Delaware, where Villanova had rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns behind redshirt-freshman quarterback Zach Bednarczk, after replacing injured Walter Payton Award winner John Robertson, the Wildcats seemed emotionally spent.
They learned on Tuesday that Robertson, the team’s spiritual leader and most physically-gifted performer, would be out indefinitely with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
“We were flat for sure,” Talley said in the post-game press conference. “I wish I could explain it, but I can’t. If I could, I would. It was one of the worst performances in my career. They just outplayed us in every aspect.”
After scoring on a 12-yard Alek Torgersen to Justin Watson hook-up to punctuate its first drive, Penn recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to add to their momentum.
Torgersen and Watson connected again in the second period, with Watson breaking free on the sideline for a 33-yard scoring strike that made it 14-0.
The crowd was stunned as Penn dominated the first half, shutting down the usually solid VU running game. The Quakers held the ball for nearly 24 1/2 minutes of the first half, rolling up a 219-29 offensive edge and piling up 16 first downs, compared to just two for the Wildcats.
Only an interception in the end zone by cornerback Malik Reeves kept Torgersen from adding to Penn’s lead before the intermission.
But Penn has held leads even later than this in previous efforts against the Wildcats only to be heartbroken in the end.
Dependable fullback Gary Underwood finally got Villanova on the board with his one-yard TD plunge late in the third period and the talented Bednarczk had the Wildcats on the move again midway through the fourth quarter when one of those plays that always seem to go VU’s way suddenly spun up snake eyes.
Penn defensive end Tyler Drake smashed the ball loose from running back Javon White. Linebacker Donald Panciello scooped it up and raced 90 yard for a back-breaking touchdown.
This time, Villanova couldn’t spring any late-game magic against the Quakers.
“Wow, just wow,” said Ray Priore, whose brother Chuck, the coach at Stony Brook, had just celebrated a huge upset win over New Hampshire five days earlier. “You know, you keep trying and praying and praying. It had to happen sooner, or later, right?”