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Senior quarterback Mike McCurdy led Penn sprint football to a 29-23 win over Navy on Friday, passing for 265 yards, rushing for 74 and totaling two touchdowns as the Quakers completed their first season sweep of the service academies since 2000.

Photo: Ilana Wurman

With most of last year’s team still intact, Penn sprint football coach Bill Wagner believes his squad can take a step forward from last season’s 4-3 performance.

That is, if a few factors play in the team’s favor.

“I think this offensive team is going to be a major offensive threat if they can stay healthy,” Wagner said. “The defense is going to be better. They want to take away the big plays, especially on third down.”

With only three starters graduating last year, there were not many holes to plug in the lineup. The biggest question mark on offense is the running back position, with four-time first team All-College Spring Football League running back Mike Beamish having graduated. Last season, Beamish was the Penn’s top offensive threat, rushing 121 times for 533 yards and six touchdowns. The Quakers will likely lean on one of the freshmen pair of Jake Klaus and Max Jones for the majority of the team’s carries.

Junior quarterback Mike McCurdy returns for his third season as starter. After a seven-game debut season in 2013 where he threw for 1,403 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, McCurdy arguably took a step back last year. He finished with 1,157 yards passing, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions. However, both Wagner and junior defensive lineman Patrick Boyle believe he was the victim of poor pass blocking and took more hits than he needed to.

“I think our strength will be in our passing game and our defensive front seven, as long as we can keep Mike safe, we should be able to be successful passing the ball,” Boyle said.

Due to unexpected depth at linebacker, a few veteran players are now in new spots on defense. Junior captain Robert Diorio will now line up at safety instead of linebacker, and senior Derek Shnider will play on the defensive line.

Boyle pointed to freshman defender James Juliano as a potential impact player new to the team.

“[He] was a very good high school player, he had 140 tackles last year in a high school season [MaxPreps.com credits him with 153 in 11 senior season games], which is very impressive, and a lot of the guys were good football players we’re excited to have out here,” Boyle said.

While Boyle considers the front seven on defense one of the team’s strengths, he believes opponents may be able to exploit the Quakers through the secondary.

“We always have trouble defensively with long, deep passes,” Boyle said. “Everybody in this league is very fast. It always seems like some of the better teams have a receiver that’s able to run a 4.4 [forty-yard dash time] or we have trouble covering him over the middle. So that’s what we’re really going to have to work on.”

The Red and Blue will get their first action in a joint practice and scrimmage against upstart Chestnut Hill this Saturday at Penn Park. Boyle believes it will be a refreshing change of pace from playing against his own teammates.

“We’ll get to do some live competition against another team that we aren’t used to, we’ll be able to get new looks and go against new guys,” he said.

Next week, the team will play in the annual alumni game, followed by its CSFL opener on Sept. 19 at Franklin Field against Franklin Pierce (3-4 in 2014). In last year’s matchup, the Quakers won on the road, 14-7, behind 163 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Beamish.

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