With a newly named, fresh-faced quarterback under center, the football team (0-4, 0-1 Ivy) will take the field for Homecoming weekend’s main event against Penn (2-2, 1-0 Ivy).
The Lions will take the field with first-year Kelly Hilinski as their signal caller, but there is plenty more youth to go around on offense. Six of the 11 offensive players in the top spot on this week’s depth chart are first-years or sophomores. Still, head coach Pete Mangurian said he’s confident the offense can handle the challenge.
“I don’t think we’ve pulled back on the game plan,” Mangurian said in a phone interview on Thursday. “These guys have all been here. We’re not going to change and reinvent the wheel and put a new offense out there. We’ve got a system in place.”
Many of those players—like first-year wide receivers Denzel Hill and Cameron Dunn, and first-year running back Alan Watson—have already made an impact.
“Denzel Hill made plays in the game last week,” Mangurian said. “Kelly made plays. We’ve seen Watson make plays, and we’ve seen Dunn make plays. We’ve got young skill players that can do a lot with the football once they get it in their hands.”
The Lions will need a complete team performance to break two long losing streaks—a 15-year streak against Penn and a 12-year streak at Homecoming.
The Quakers come in at .500 after going 1-2 in a tough non-conference schedule. Penn lost to No. 11 Villanova 35-6 in Week 2 and to William & Mary 27-14 last week. But playing a tough slate out of league is a staple for Penn, which went 0-3 in non-conference play before going 6-1 to win its 16th Ivy title last season.
“Penn teams all look the same,” Mangurian said. “They’re all big, they’re all tough, and they’re all strong. They’ve got an air of arrogance—and I don’t say that in a negative way. That comes from winning a lot of championships.”
In their only Ivy game this season, it took the Quakers four overtimes to dispatch the Big Green 37-31 in Philadelphia in the longest game in Ivy League history.
“And they believe they’re going to win. I think they have an identity a lot like Lehigh in that regard,” Mangurian said. “That helmet is a key for them. They know they’re going to go out there, and they’re going to win because of who they are. And there’s some truth to that, and overcoming that is a challenge for anybody that plays them.”
Quarterback Billy Ragone leads Penn’s offense as a dual threat. He finished last season seventh in the league in passing and ninth in rushing to earn an All-Ivy honorable mention. So far this season, Ragone has completed 70 of his 118 passes for 750 yards, with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
“Billy Ragone knows how to win,” Mangurian said. “That’s all you need to say about the great quarterbacks at any level—they know how to win.”
According to Mangurian, the Quakers run multiple offensive sets with different personnel groupings, but they aren’t too devious on that side of the ball.
“They don’t do it with a gimmick,” he said. “They’ve got deception, and they use it, but they’re not going to try to trick you. They’re going to try to beat you.”
Penn is big and tough on defense, though their numbers don’t necessarily reflect it because of their strong competition. The Quakers rank third in the league with 15 sacks, and Mangurian said they have a tendency to knock the ball out and create opportunities for themselves.
“They do what they do, and they’ve done it for a long time. And they’re good at it,” Mangurian said. “There’s some things that we’re going to do gameplan-wise hopefully to force them to make some adjustments and minimize our necessity to do so.”
Though Mangurian said he’s noticed plenty of negativity surrounding the Light Blue’s process of turning a historically losing program into a winner, he noted that with a big crowd expected on Saturday, Homecoming provides a chance to help change that perception.
“I think it’s a positive reminder to our players that this is a good thing—that there are people that care about you, that there are people that support you,” Mangurian said. “And they feel better about all the hard work they do, which quite honestly unless you’re here every day, you don’t know.”
“I think when the crowd comes together, people are all pulling for this team, they get a sense that they’re playing for more than just themselves,” he added.
Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Robert K. Kraft Field.