justin watson

Penn handles Division II Ohio Dominican to win season opener

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Courtesy of Penn Athletics

Penn handles Division II Ohio Dominican to win season opener

BOX SCORE

Karekin Brooks had 10 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns to help Pennsylvania beat Division II Ohio Dominican 42-24 on Saturday in the Quakers' season opener.

Will Fischer-Colbrie threw for 198 yards and two scores, and Justin Watson had eight receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

On the first drive of the third quarter, Fischer-Colbrie threw for a 2-yard score to Watson to cap a 7-play, 65-yard drive, giving to Penn the lead for good at 14-10. Three-plus minutes later, Brooks scored from 18-yards out to make it 21-10 and Nicholas Bokun scored on a 30-yard reception at the 6:12 mark for an 18-point lead.

Grant Russell threw for 273 yards and two scores for Old Dominican (0-3).

The Panthers took an early 7-0 lead on Cedric Washington's 40-yard touchdown reception with 9:22 left in the first quarter to cap a seven-play, 79-yard drive.

The Quakers played their 1,374th game, the most of any program at any level of college football.

Penn begins quest for 3rd straight Ivy League title with uncertainty at QB

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Penn Athletics

Penn begins quest for 3rd straight Ivy League title with uncertainty at QB

Looking for his third straight Ivy League championship in his third year as head coach, Ray Priore guides the Penn football team into a 2017 campaign filled with both sky-high expectations and uncertainty at the most important position on the field.

Ahead of the Quakers’ season-opener vs. Ohio Dominican on Saturday at Franklin Field (1 p.m., CSN), here’s a closer look at what to expect from Penn this season:

Offense
At wide receiver, there’s no one better in the Ivy League and few better in all of FCS football than Justin Watson, a star senior who ranks second in Penn history in career receptions (205) and receiving yards (2,694) and enters the season a preseason first team All-American and candidate for the Walter Payton Award.

The Quakers are also stacked at running back, where senior Tre Solomon returns after leading the Ivies in rushing yards (907) last season.

But nobody on Penn’s roster has taken a college snap following the graduation of Alek Torgersen, now with the Washington Redskins' practice squad. And after a hard-fought training camp quarterback competition, senior Will Fischer-Colbrie won the job over newcomers Nick Robinson and Ryan Glover.

“He’s the most experienced because he’s been in the system for a handful of years,” Priore said. “The two youngsters we brought in are doing phenomenal; they just have not picked up the system to where we like it going into Week 1.”

Priore said Robinson, a transfer from the University of Georgia, and Glover, a true freshman from Atlanta, may still get some reps, so look for them to possibly see the field against an Ohio Dominican team that the Quakers should beat handily.

In the meantime, Fischer-Colbrie will lean heavily on Solomon, a sturdy offensive line and a good receiving corps that includes juniors Christian Pearson, Steve Farrell and, of course, Watson.

“I think that we both know how good we can be and how much we can help our team and how good we can make the kids around us,” said Solomon of he and Watson. “And that’s what we try to do every day. We try to be as vocal as we possibly can, we try to lead by example all the time. I’m really excited to see what [Watson] does in his last year. It’s his finale, man. He’s been, in my opinion, the league’s MVP, or at least the offensive MVP, every year since he’s got here. And it’s just gonna be really exciting to see him in his senior year.”

Defense
The Quakers also boast a star playmaker on the other side of the football — Watson’s fellow co-captain Louis Vecchio. A big-time recruit who chose Penn over Stanford and other Pac-12 programs, Vecchio came into his own last season, earning first-team All-Ivy honors after leading the Quakers in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (10.5) and scoring a defensive touchdown in a huge home win over Harvard.

What does the senior defensive end think the defense has in store this season?

“We’re holding ourselves to a higher standard,” Vecchio said. “We’re looking to put in the work each day to make sure we live up to it. With a lot of vets coming back, we’re trying to raise the bar and it’ll show up on the field. We’re gonna be ready to play.”

In addition to Vecchio, the Quakers return seven other defensive starters, including linebacker Colton Moskal, a Syracuse transfer and last year’s leading tackler (89), and second team All-Ivy defensive back Sam Philippi.

But the unit must overcome the loss of cornerback Mason Williams, who led the Ivies in interceptions last year before transferring to Duke.

“I’m excited as ever and hopefully we can show the league where we deserve to be,” Vecchio said. “We want to go out on top.”

Special teams
Priore announced this week that junior Jack Soslow, a local native from Haverford School, won the placekicking job after serving as the kickoff specialist the last two seasons.

Senior Hunter Kelley returns at punter after leading the Ivies in punting average (42.7) last season.

Coaching
Priore could not have asked for a better start to his head coaching career, leading the Quakers to a piece of two straight league titles following two rare losing seasons under Al Bagnoli.

But Priore, a longtime Penn assistant under Bagnoli, has tried to forget all that as he prepared for a new season.

“I’ve been on the staff for 30 years and we’ve gone through some great times,” he said. “Sometimes you forget what gets you there and you just have to keep it revved up and keep it going. You try to keep the energy level up. There’s a process to everything.”

Player to watch
It’s worth a trip to Franklin Field play just to check out Watson, who may go down as one of the best football players in Ivy League history.

It will be interesting to see how he’ll fare catching passes from a new quarterback, but judging by how hard he worked in the offseason to reshape his body, his senior season may still be his best one yet.

“It’s always nice having Justin out there,” Priore said. “He’s so talented and such a humble kid. He’s the hardest-working kid on the field. He leads by example. If you need to get the ball into his hands, you can. He can make big plays happen.”

Watson may be good enough to not only play in the NFL but potentially even be an early-round draft pick. But after talking with Torgersen, he knows he can’t focus on that yet.

“His biggest thing is what’s gonna help me the most is winning a championship,” said Watson of his friend and former QB. “I really don’t want to leave the season with any regrets.”

Game to watch
Penn’s road to each of the last two titles went through Harvard as they upset the nationally ranked Crimson in a pair of thrillers.

Can the Quakers do it again when they travel to Harvard for the penultimate game of the season on Nov. 11 — a game sandwiched between big home games against rival Princeton and Cornell.

Prediction
This is a hard team to figure out. They have all the pieces, but a huge question mark at quarterback.

Although the Quakers want that outright crown, look for them to once again share the Ivy title after losing an early game and figuring things out down the stretch.

Penn will have tough choice to make at quarterback with 3 worthy candidates

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Dave Zeitlin

Penn will have tough choice to make at quarterback with 3 worthy candidates

As the three quarterbacks stood together in the middle of Franklin Field on Monday, the veteran of the group (Will Fischer-Colbrie) playfully rustled the hair of the freshman (Ryan Glover) as the transfer (Nick Robinson) looked on and smiled.

The QB battle may be the big focus of the 2017 Penn football team’s preseason camp, but it’s clear it’s been an enjoyable one for those involved.

“We talked before camp it’s going to be a competition but that doesn’t mean we’re not teammates, that doesn’t mean we all don’t have the same goal in mind,” Fischer-Colbrie said from Penn’s media day Monday. “Of course it’s friendly. We’re all having a great time.”

Whichever players wins the job will have big shoes to fill after Alek Torgersen started the last three seasons at quarterback, leading the Quakers to a piece of the 2015 and 2016 Ivy League championships while setting program records in touchdown throws (52) and completion percentage (65.1).

Torgersen is now with the Atlanta Falcons, hoping to make it in the NFL as a third-string quarterback, while the Quakers are left without anyone who’s ever taken a snap for them.

But with that uncertainty also comes a bit of anticipation and excitement.

“The nice part of it is all three quarterbacks have done a tremendous job,” said Penn head coach Ray Priore, who hopes to unveil the starter by the end of the week ahead of the Quakers’ opener on Sept. 16. “It’s truly an open competition.”

All three have interesting pedigrees. Fischer-Colbrie, a California native, spent the last two seasons at Penn without seeing any action after transferring from the University of Colorado. Robinson also is originally from California by way of a big-time program, transferring from the University of Georgia. And Glover, a highly touted recruit from Atlanta, is vying to become a rare true freshman starter at quarterback. (Sophomore Tyler Herrick was also competing for the job at the start of camp but was since moved to receiver, and Michael Collins transferred to TCU in May).

For offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Reagan, all of them do certain things well enough to fit into his system and perhaps evolve in the same way Torgersen did when he learned a new offense two years ago when Reagan was hired.

“Evolve is the perfect word for it,” he said. “It’s evolving. All three guys are competing and doing a heck of a job. I think we’re excited about the position. All of them have really developed in their own way and we feel really good about where we are right now.”

Easing the transition is the fact that they get to throw the football to Justin Watson, a senior All-American and perhaps the best wide receiver in Penn’s storied history. Watson, who developed a close rapport with Torgersen, even stuck around Philly this summer (passing up a big internship opportunity in New York City) to work out with all three of them before the pads come on. 

And he was impressed with what he saw.

“I’m just really glad I don’t have to make the decision because it looks like a really tough one so far,” said Watson, who ranks second at Penn in all-time receptions and receiving yards. “We’ve got two upperclassmen who look really good in Robinson and Fischer-Colbrie and a freshman comes in, Ryan Glover, who has a cannon for an arm. … All three guys look like really good leaders and everyone is behind those three guys.”

The quarterbacks were equally effusive in their praise toward Watson, who is known at Penn for his work ethic as much as his enormous talent.

“It’s awesome,” Fischer-Colbrie said. “It makes it a lot of fun. When he’s doing all the work he’s doing, he makes you look real good. I know each of us has reaped the benefits of what he’s doing on the outside.”

“I think he’s a great leader and an awesome player,” added Glover, who admits he’s needed to catch up on a lot during the first couple of weeks of his first college season. 

And in addition to Watson, the freshman has also leaned on his two fellow quarterbacks.

“During practice, I’ll probably ask maybe 50 questions a day,” Glover said. “They’ve done a good job helping me out and helping me understand the playbook.”

That kind of trust and helpfulness, even in the heat of a positional battle, is something Priore has preached since taking over as Penn’s coach before the 2015 season. 

It’s also just one more element that will make his QB decision even tougher.

“Sometimes it’s easier when guys aren’t performing well,” Priore said. “Right now those three guys are doing it. I don’t think we’ll miss a beat there.”