September 17, 2015

A schedule change and a major injury could have Penn counting its blessings as it tries to end a 14-game losing streak to Villanova.

The upstart Quakers, however, may still need divine intervention.

With Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia forcing this matchup to move to Thursday night, Penn avoids facing reigning FCS Player of the Year John Robertson when it visits the Wildcats.

Originally scheduled to meet Saturday, Penn and Villanova (2-1) were forced to shift this matchup to alleviate potential traffic concerns with the Pope scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia that day.

"I think the Pope was coming in for the coin toss. That would be a nice touch," Penn first-year coach Ray Priore joked.

Pope Francis won't be the only significant figure missing Thursday night with the Wildcats taking the field without Robertson, who is out indefinitely with a torn PCL in his right knee suffered during Saturday's 28-21 win over Delaware.

"We're all still a little down about John; great player, great person, national figure. It's just a shame," Wildcats coach Andy Talley said.

The quarterback tossed eight touchdown passes while rushing for two more in three meetings with Penn. He had four scoring passes while the Wildcats did all of their scoring in the first half of a 41-7 rout over the Quakers on Sept. 27.

Penn will now prepare for redshirt freshman Zach Bednarczyk, who led two fourth-quarter scoring drives to rally Villanova last weekend. He put the Wildcats ahead for good with a 21-yard TD run with 2:35 left in regulation.

"We're very thin at quarterback. Our scholarship kid got hurt, our incoming freshman kid (Adeyemi DaSilva) got hurt in camp, so we have a walk-on (freshman Jackson Bradley) as our backup quarterback," Talley said.

Penn has lost three straight matchups with Villanova by an average of 26.3 points while giving up 517.0 yards per game, including 274.0 on the ground.

The defense was torched for 495 yards in a season-opening 42-21 loss to Lehigh on Saturday.

"The message has been since I took over is 'one step at a time,'" Priore said. "I think you can definitely see the new staff trying to evaluate what we have and what our kids can do at all the difference positions and levels."

Priore certainly knows what Alek Torgersen can do. The junior QB completed 30 of 42 passes for 336 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while rushing for another score in the season opener. However, his worst collegiate performance came against Villanova last year, finishing 18 of 30 for 180 yards and two picks while being sacked four times.

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WILL IT END?=

Columbia has lost 22 games in a row since beating Cornell on Nov. 10, 2012, but the Lions showed some promise in a 44-24 season-opening loss at Fordham in coach Al Bagnoli's debut last Saturday. They entered the fourth quarter trailing by four points and their 333 yards of offense was their second-highest during the skid.

"We need a couple of games to analyze when the bullets are flying, what's going to happen," Bagnoli said. "Everybody was in it together, which was great. We certainly have a lot to clean up. I don't want our kids happy that they made this thing respectable. I don't think that's our goal."

Columbia may have its best chance to end the streak Saturday against Georgetown (1-2) in the battle for the Lou Little Trophy. The Hoyas are coming off last weekend's 31-10 home loss to Dartmouth, during which it managed just 23 yards rushing after totaling 246 through the first two games.

The Lions are 2-0 in the matchup, winning 23-21 at home in the most recent Sept. 23, 2006.

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DEFENDING THE CROWN=

No. 24 Harvard officially begins its quest for a third straight Ivy League title Saturday against visiting Brown. The Crimson got their season off to a strong start last Saturday, scoring 27 unanswered points to rout Rhode Island 41-10 and extend the FCS' longest winning streak to 15 games.

They've won 13 of their last 15 meetings with the Bears, including seven straight at home. Harvard scored the final 16 points of a 22-14 win at Brown on Sept. 27 behind Paul Stanton Jr.'s 120 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries.

Brown's season opener didn't go smoothly last weekend, committing four red zone turnovers and five overall as it squandered a 10-point, first-quarter lead in a 20-16 defeat to Bryant.

"You can't turn it over five times and expect to win a football game against a good team," coach Phil Estes said. "This was the story of our opener last year and we have to do a better job."

That's also been the story at Harvard, where the Bears have coughed the ball up nine times - five interceptions - in their last two visits and at least three times in four of the last six.

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