EASTON, Pa. - A seven-interception performance by the defense led Lafayette to a 28-21 victory over Penn on Saturday evening at Fisher Stadium. The Leopards forced eight turnovers in all and improved to 2-0 on the season for the first time since 2008.
"I want to throw a shout out, a very strong thank you to our student body which showed school spirit tonight that has been unparalleled here in a long, long time," said Lafayette head coach Frank Tavani of the crowd of more than 8,000. "We want them to know how appreciative we were of all that noise they were creating up there. It was really a great atmosphere and I am really happy and thankful to our student body."
The seven interceptions matched the school record for interceptions in a game, set in 1944 against Ursinus.
"We battled to the last play," Tavani added. "Setting a record for interceptions is certainly helping our turnover ratio, that's for sure. But, there are a lot of things we need to correct."
Lafayette took a 21-7 lead into halftime after a dominating first-half by the Leopards' defense. The unit forced Penn quarterbacks into throwing five interceptions in the half, four by starter Billy Ragone and another by Andrew Holland who entered the game in the second quarter.
Three of Lafayette's interceptions came on Penn's opening three possessions. The first, by junior linebacker Kasheem Hill was on Penn's third play from scrimmage and was returned 42 yards down the Lafayette sideline. Making his first career start under center, sophomore quarterback Zach Zweizig handed off three times to tailback Vaughn Hebron before Zweizig's number was called on a draw from four yards out on first and goal. Ryan Gralish converted the extra point and Lafayette went ahead 7-0.
"You have to give him an awful lot of credit," Tavani said of Zweizig, who started because senior quarterback Andrew Shoop was serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. "Going out with no game reps under his belt and to be thrown into that situation, it's not an easy time and we're certainly proud of his effort."
It took two plays for Lafayette's defense to strike again, this time when senior Darius Safford jumped a route and took Ragone's pass 31 yards for a touchdown. The next series ended on third-and-nine at midfield when Ben Aloi held on to Ragone's pass at the Leopards' 44-yard line.
Zweiwig then directed a 13-play, 56-yard drive that spanned 7:08 and ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Gould in the near corner of the endzone. Gould's reception was his second of the drive, in which tailback Ross Scheuerman rushed for 17 yards on four carries.
After interceptions by Jared Roberts and Colton Kirkpatrick didn't result in points, Ragone helped put Penn on the board with a touchdown drive before intermission. Penn's score came on a four-yard pass from Ragone to Lyle Marsh with 37 seconds left in the half.
The Maroon and White received the ball in the second half and punted twice surrounding a Penn punt. With 4:33 showing on the third-quarter clock, Penn took over on the Lafayette 40 after an 18-yard return by Eric Fiore. The Quakers moved down to the Lafayette 21-yard line in three plays before another interception haunted the Penn offense. Kyni Scott plucked Ragone's pass out of the air at the 12-yard line to end the scoring threat.
Four straight rushing plays, three to Scheuerman, set up a 36-yard pass play from Zweiwig to Mark Ross along the left sideline on third-and-five. The play put Lafayette on the Penn 26 before Zweizig connected with Mike Duncan on the next snap for his second passing TD of the night.
Despite the frequency of turnovers, Penn remained in the game, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter. Holland connected with Marsh for a 12-yard score that trimmed Lafayette's advantage to 28-14 less than a minute into the final quarter.
Penn (0-1) appeared to seize the momentum, intercepting Zweizig near midfield. The Quakers looked as if they had cut it two seven on the ensuing possession when Holland hit Ryan Mitchell for a 22-yard pass. Kirkpatrick stripped Mitchell at the one-yard line and Aloi recovered in the end zone to stave off the Penn score.
The Quakers put together a 13-play, 66-yard drive that brought the Ivy leaguers within seven, 28-21, with 5:24 left. Penn had the ball a final time with 2:30 left, but the Leopards' seventh interception of the day, Safford's second of the game, sealed the win.
Zweizig finished the day 13-for-20 for 134 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first career start.
Holland threw for 191 yards, completing 18-of-28 for one touchdown with two interceptions. Ragone was picked off five times after completing 14-of-23 for 152 yards. Conner Scott reeled in 12 catches for 161 yards.
Lafayette next travels to Bucknell on Sept. 22 to open Patriot League play. That game can be seen live nationwide on CBS Sports Network.
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