The Quakers made a statement on Saturday but returned home needing to ask themselves some questions.
Opening the year on the road against Mansfield, Penn sprint football cruised to a 31-7 win but was dealt a heavy blow when sophomore running back Max Jones went down in the fourth quarter with a broken ankle.
Coach Bill Wagner made no effort to mask the difficulty presented by the loss.
“Our young kids maybe felt a little bit of pressure in the beginning, but we really picked it up mentally in that third and fourth quarter,” coach Bill Wagner said. “Overall I’m pretty happy with what happened in the game, but the thing that’s lost in the game is that Max Jones broke his ankle, and he had 14 carries for 98 yards and played a great game on special teams — a long kickoff return as well as his 98 yards rushing — so we have to do something to fix that.”
Nonetheless, the Red and Blue (1-0) were left with some bright spots.
Though Mansfield has never beaten the Quakers, the last two games between the two squads went right down to the wire. Senior quarterback Mike McCurdy was not going to let that happen this time.
The reigning CSFL co-MVP was in midseason form, throwing for 261 yards and two scores without allowing a pick.
Indeed, it was on the Quakers’ first drive that McCurdy connected with junior wideout Andrew Sutton — his favored target on the day, logging six receptions for 131 yards — to jump out to the early lead.
By halftime it was 10-0 and, though the Mountaineers got on the board early in the third, Penn quickly stifled any hope of a comeback.
While the offense cruised, it was the defense that was the story of the night. Mansfield quarterback Adam Hutchinson was picked off four times, and Penn defensive end Ed Cai — playing his first game back after missing the 2015 season to work for Facebook — added a blocked kick and forced fumble to his stat sheet.
“Our defense stepped it up tonight giving us great field position all day,” Wagner said. ”[Cai] is a big asset coming off the edge, and he did a super job.”
Wagner knows that his squad will need to be firing on all cylinders when Army comes to town on Friday. The Black Knights coasted to a 38-0 rout of Chestnut Hill, having lost only one game since 2011.
That makes the loss of Jones all the more significant. Having gone down late in the game, the Red and Blue did not have much of a chance to test out their options, though senior Robert Diorio did log a touchdown on the ground in garbage time.
Although Wagner called upon eight different carriers in the game, only Jones and McCurdy rushed more than three times. The Quakers will need a running game against the Black Knights — last year they managed to sack McCurdy seven times, and that was in spite of Jones’ 16 rushing attempts.
“I think we’ll be ready to play Army. I think they and Navy are as good as always – they beat Chestnut Hill pretty bad and Navy beat Cornell pretty bad,” Wagner said. “In order to win this league, you have to beat one of the service academies, if not both, and I know our troops will be ready for that game. We’ll solve that tailback problem — our four senior captains have great leadership and they’ll step up next week. I think the experience of everyone we played [against Mansfield] helps a lot since depth in our league is so important.”
As the Red and Blue take a moment to relish a strong opener, there is the acknowledgment that Army is not far in the distance.
Last year, the Quakers came within a field goal of knocking the Black Knights off and securing a share of the CSFL title. If Wagner’s squad hopes to build upon that in 2016, it will have to start with a win this Friday.
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