The Quakers knew they’d have to go after Navy for a full 60 minutes if they were going to come out with a win. What they didn’t know was that it would actually take a little bit more than that.
Undeterred, Penn sprint football battled on, defeating the Midshipmen, 29-23, in a dramatic overtime finish for the ages.
It didn’t always look good for the Quakers (4-0), though. In fact, the game couldn’t have started off worse, as the Mids returned the game’s opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
Beating Navy (3-1) was a tall order from the start, but overcoming a seven-point deficit seemed near impossible. Instead, the Red and Blue rallied.
“We were not leaving the field unless we won the game,” Penn coach Bill Wagner said.
Behind the leadership of senior captain and quarterback Mike McCurdy, the Quakers stormed back. McCurdy — who finished the day with 265 yards through the air and 74 more on the ground — led Penn all the way to a 23-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Sophomore wide receiver Aidan Kelly was also instrumental during that stretch, finishing with 110 receiving yards.
Even as time wound down, the Mids offered a reminder of why they came to Franklin Field as the Collegiate Sprint Football League’s lone unbeaten squad aside from Penn. After kicking a field goal to cut into Penn’s lead with six minutes left, the Midshipmen halted the Quakers’ next offensive drive and regained possession at their own 32-yard line with 3:35 left on the clock.
Methodically moving the ball down the field, Navy tied the game up 23-23 on a three-yard touchdown pass with just 24 seconds left in the game. All the Mids needed was one extra point to escape Philadelphia with the win.
After a “running into the kicker” penalty negated a Navy missed extra point attempt, senior kicker Jules Murphy lined up for a second try. He was still able to get the kick off cleanly, but pressure from the Quakers was just enough to force the ball a little wide of the uprights.
Suddenly, against all odds, Penn and Navy were facing an overtime period to decide the game. The Quakers got possession first, starting at their opponent’s 25-yard line as according to CSFL overtime rules.
Four quick plays later, senior safety and running back Robert Diorio powered in a two-yard touchdown run for the score and the lead. Unfortunately for the Quakers, Penn’s subsequent extra point attempt was blocked by the Mids for the second straight time.
Up by just six points, the Red and Blue knew allowing another Navy touchdown would almost definitely mean a loss. And after Navy moved the ball all the way to Penn’s four-yard line, the Quakers knew they would need to make the defensive stance of a lifetime. Penn did just that, forcing and recovering a fumble on Navy’s next run to seal the Quaker victory.
“It was real special,” McCurdy said, “I mean to beat both of [the service academies] in the same year, something that hasn’t been done since 2000, to be a part of that history, it’s an honor and a privilege. I’m so happy right now.”
Not only was the win historic, but it also makes Penn the heavy favorite to finish the season as champions — something they haven’t been to able to do since 2010.
“We’ll enjoy the win tonight and get back to it tomorrow,” McCurdy said.
With games against Chestnut Hill, Cornell and Post left, the Red and Blue have gotten over the most difficult humps of their season. They stand as the only team undefeated in the CSFL — the Quakers’ title hopes rest entirely in their own hands.
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