Army sprint football has lost one game since 2011. On Oct. 23, 2015, that almost changed.
With four seconds left in a 10-10 tie, then-junior Mario del Cueto stepped up to try a 49-yard field goal for Penn. The attempt missed wide, and the Black Knights went on to win the game in double overtime and take their third Collegiate Sprint Football League title in four years.
Fast forward to 2016.
With the Quakers (1-0) on the heels of a 31-7 rout of Mansfield in their season-opening contest, Army (1-0) is readying for a trip to University City and an early test of Penn’s title hopes for the year.
“We’ve been there,” Penn coach Bill Wagner said. “We know it’s going to be a physical game, a tough game — they know what it takes to win this league: You’ve gotta beat either Army or Navy.”
This contest represents more than just a one-off game. It’s a critical part of the checklist, especially for seniors making their last run at a championship.
The current seniors have never won a CSFL title, and 2015 was the closest they’ve come to taking down the Black Knights.
“It brings more excitement for this year, more confidence,” senior running back and linebacker Robert Diorio said. “It gets all the young guys fired up that we’re so close to a championship.”
Though Penn (1-0) will need to retool in the wake of sophomore running back Max Jones injuring his ankle against Mansfield, sophomore Jake Klaus saw significant time at the position as a freshman last year.
Regardless, the Quakers’ offense will have to run — as it has for going on four years — through senior quarterback Mike McCurdy.
“Everyone on the team took it hard, as they should,” McCurdy said of the loss to Army last season. “We were really close but, for me, you just have to look at it positively and know that we were that close and I believe we’re a better team this year. And if we can compete last year the way that we did, I think the ceiling for this team is even higher.”
Last year, McCurdy was held to 183 yards and sacked seven times against Army, but he also threw for Penn’s lone touchdown and was able to avoid the Black Knights’ hardy defense forcing a turnover.
He’s also coming off a strong performance at Mansfield, throwing for 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Red and Blue coasted past the Mountaineers.
If there’s a time where Wagner’s squad is going to take down Army, that time might just be now. The Quakers have returned many of the starters who saw in 2015 that the Black Knights could be made vulnerable. They’re also getting a chance to take a swing at the champs much earlier than they have in past years.
“I think that playing Army early is a new experience for us,” Wagner said. “We’ve played Navy early and we were successful. ... So we’ll see what happens. I’m looking forward to the game, I really am.”
A win this weekend would put Penn in the driver’s seat down the stretch. A loss would mean relying on some help from fellow CSFL powerhouse Navy. This game comes early in the season, but it matters. A lot.
Friday night, all eyes will be on Franklin Field.
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