Penn sprint football is usually not the target of a national audience. But things will be different for the Quakers’ season opener.
Saturday, the Red and Blue will travel to take on Mansfield in a game that will be streamed on ESPN3.
Starting fresh after a 3-4 campaign in 2013, Penn hopes to jump off to a strong start against the Mountaineers (0-0), which finished 1-6 in 2013. In last year’s matchup on Sept. 20, 2013, the Quakers prevailed 42-14.
That game just so happened to mark the beginning of the Mike McCurdy era for the Red and Blue.
Just before halftime, the then-freshman quarterback relieved an ineffective Keith Braccia with the Quakers down 14-7. In the second half, he threw four touchdown passes and then-junior running back Mike Beamish added a goal-line score, and the Quakers ran away with the game.
By season’s end, McCurdy wound up with 14 touchdown passes and had established himself as Penn’s unquestioned starter.
Over the offseason, the Mountaineers hired John Evans as defensive coordinator to prevent a repeat of 2013, and Penn is not sure what kind of front it will see Saturday.
“We prepped for three defenses,” coach Bill Wagner said. “But the offense should work anyway ... we just have to block.”
Mansfield’s defense features a number of fast players in the front seven, including junior linebacker Spencer Underdown and junior defensive end Anthony Mazzone .
But a summer’s worth of offseason work by McCurdy could render that moot.
“[I did] a lot of running, working on getting faster, sprint work,” he said. “[I was also] working on routes, timing, footwork for quarterbacks.”
Penn’s offensive attack against the Mountaineers will likely be more methodical than one would typically expect. Star running back Mike Beamish will be expected to handle the bulk of the rushing load while McCurdy works to establish an intermediate passing game.
“[I’ve got to work on] knowing when to take the shot and when to play it safe and keep the ball in our hands,” McCurdy said.
On defense, Penn will rely on defensive linemen Ed Cai and Patrick Boyle to rush Mansfield senior quarterback Mike Maniscalco , who threw for 513 passing yards and five passing touchdowns in 2013 and became the starting quarterback at season’s end.
Mansfield’s top offensive weapon is junior wide receiver Joe Bucek , who totaled 322 receiving yards in 2013. It is unclear whether a member of Penn’s secondary such as senior Stu Helgeson or Braccia will cover him or if a linebacker such as sophomore Robert Diorio will take on the task.
The Quakers return 14 of 22 starters from last season on offense and defense, and 12 returning players were named to the 2013 All-CSFL teams. Beamish made the first team as both a running back and punter, and was joined on the first team by junior tight end Brendan Dale , junior offensive lineman Donnie Kneisel , Helgeson and Cai.
And all of that talent may just be enough to push Penn to an opening game win.
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