It took a game with two onside kick attempts, a 47-yard Hail Mary, two blocked PATs, a 93-yard drive with no timeouts and 101 seconds left, a late two-point conversion and double overtime, but Penn is back atop the sprint football world.
With a 27-20 win over Cornell on Friday, the Quakers clinched at least a share of the Collegiate Sprint Football League title for the first time since 2010.
Eight seniors won their first title on Friday. Coach Bill Wagner won his fifth. And it was the senior leadership that got them there.
“It feels great. I don’t want to be content with it — it’s hard not to be right now,” senior quarterback Mike McCurdy said. “We’re definitely going to celebrate tonight, it’s what we’ve been working for.”
Out of the gate, however, the picture wasn’t so rosy. The Big Red (2-4) recovered an onside kick to open play. They weren’t able to score off of it, but a fumble by McCurdy on the Quakers’ opening drive translated into seven points for Cornell, putting Penn (6-0) in an early hole.
A 35-yard field goal extended the lead to 10-0, and it looked like that was where things would stand at the half. Stuck at 4th-and-15 near midfield, Wagner elected to go for it with five seconds left, and McCurdy was able to find sophomore receiver Marcus Jones deep in the end zone for a 47-yard score as time expired.
The deficit was narrowed, but a blocked PAT dampened the halftime celebration.
“This team has been really special for me,” Wagner said. “They really know a lot about playing the game. Sometimes they think know more than they really know. I think that they think they have all the answers sometimes, but in some cases they don’t even know the questions. However, I love them.”
Somehow, the game managed to get even crazier from there. Cornell kicked another field goal to make it 13-6, and when Penn found the end zone to potentially tie it up, the PAT was blocked again.
Throughout regulation, the Quakers didn’t seem to have an answer for Big Red quarterback Robert Pannullo — and the four-play, 70-yard drive he led with three minutes left seemed to seal the deal. Down 20-12, with no timeouts and on their own 7 with 1:42 remaining, the dream of a perfect season seemed dead.
But those feelings discounted Mike McCurdy.
The senior quarterback methodically led the Quakers down the field in 11 plays, connecting with sophomore wide receiver Chaz Augustini in the end zone with just 10 seconds to play.
Yet the Red and Blue still needed a two-point conversion just to tie. Even that wasn’t simple. A false start moved the Quakers back to the 8, but McCurdy was able to find Jake Klaus out of the backfield for the conversion.
“After all that, then you’ve got to come back and get the two,” McCurdy said. “We drew up a play that we knew would work, back came out, super free and I hit him, it was just unbelievable.”
Without time for anyone to catch their breath, overtime started right up. Senior linebacker Robert Diorio picked Pannullo off, but Penn couldn’t score — they needed a second overtime.
As if the preceding events hadn’t been insane enough, the Quakers scored to open the second overtime — and they did so when sophomore lineman Angelo Matos caught a deflected pass in the end zone. Cornell still had its chance, but an interception by sophomore defensive back Tom Console sealed the deal.
“It’s just so crazy to think about, I’m still thinking about that game and how it ended,” Cai said. “So many crazy things had to happen like the two-minute drive at the end of the second half, that long pass at the end of the first half, the two-point conversion, the tipped pass to the offensive lineman — to have two of those plays happen in one game is crazy. To have four or five of them is just insane.”
With only one game remaining in the season, no one else in the CSFL can pass the Quakers. At worst, should Penn somehow fall to a winless Post squad next weekend, only the winner of the Army-Navy game could pull even with the Red and Blue.
“An undefeated season means everything,” Diorio said. “Clearly we came out flat today and it almost came back to bite us in the back. I guarantee that won’t happen again.”
But the trip to Post is still far enough in the future. For now, there’s only one thing that’s certain: Penn sprint football is the national champion.
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