Many students use fall break as an opportunity to head home. For Penn sprint football, it was a chance to leave the homey confines of Franklin Field for the third straight weekend.
However, despite once again finding itself in unfamiliar territory, Penn sprint football delivered a crucial performance against conference rival Cornell.
The team travelled to Ithaca, N.Y., to take on the Big Red in a key Collegiate Sprint Football League matchup. The winner would find themselves entrenched in third place in the league, behind only perennial powerhouses Army and Navy.
Penn’s star players, coming off a slightly disappointing performance against the Midshipmen, redeemed themselves. Junior quarterback Mike McCurdy used his arm and his legs to lead his team to victory, passing for 178 yards and a score and rushing for 44 yards and three touchdowns. Not to be outdone, freshman running back Max Jones, no stranger to clutch performances, ran for 97 yards. As the fourth quarter clock ran down, the score read 29-12 in favor of the Red and Blue.
After last week’s difficult loss to Navy, coach Bill Wagner made clear to his team the implications of Friday’s contest and sought to instill a sense of urgency in the Red and Blue.
“We realized that the only way we could get back into this race for the championship was to run the table,” Wagner said.
This do-or-die mentality showed early on in the play of the Quakers (3-1). In the first quarter, their special teams came up with a big turnover, blocking a punt deep in Cornell territory. McCurdy then led his team to a quick lead with a four-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Henry Mason.
Penn further widened the scoring gap at the end of the first, as McCurdy steadily led the offense down the field. After a forty-one yard throw to sophomore Andrew Sutton, the quarterback took the ball into the endzone himself, his first of three rushing touchdowns on the day.
Wagner emphasized the strategic benefits of having such a mobile threat at quarterback.
“What [having a mobile quarterback] does is it forces the defense to spread across the field because he’s still such a good passer,” he said. “That allows another back in the backfield and for us to use the running back as a lead blocker. We get a lot of good action out of that.”
In front of any dominating rushing performance lies a successful offensive line. And one week after surrendering five sacks to a powerful Navy defense, the line held up admirably, allowing only one hit on their quarterback.
“Obviously, they blocked really well,” Wagner commented. “They opened up more play-action, and we got good looks at running our motion and getting the ball to our motion receivers.”
Cornell (2-2), however, put up a fight towards the end of the game. In the fourth quarter, the Big Red quickly drove towards the Penn end zone, hoping to pull within a single touchdown of the Red and Blue. But this time, Penn’s defense delivered, as junior Chris Colavita clinched the game with a critical interception. His performance, along with freshman linebacker James Juliano’s ten tackles, proved to be the difference on the defensive side of the ball.
The Quakers will finally make their return back to Franklin Field and look to continue their winning ways next Friday against Mansfield in their home game since a 51-7 rout of Franklin Pierce on Sept. 16.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.