Sometimes, there are just no words.
Summing up the experiences of Penn sprint football’s championship season is not a feasible task, but these past few months were so magical, so unprecedented, so perfect, that I owe it to my squad to try.
First off, the hunger this team had was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. In 2015, the team had a de facto league championship game at Army, but lost in double overtime after a high snap pushed us out of field goal range near the end of regulation.
A single snap. If that ball is six inches closer to Mike McCurdy’s torso, Penn likely finishes 2015 on top of the CSFL world. You cannot come up short of a championship by a slimmer margin.
So throughout the offseason, it was clear that this group of guys wanted nothing more than to get that ring we knew was deservedly ours. Having only served as a manager in 2015, I wasn’t on the field during that fateful night in West Point, but I inherited that hunger, that “ring or bust” mentality, that the returners had.
On paper, we shouldn’t have had any doubters from the start. But in the sprint football world, it’s always been the service academies and then the rest. So we knew that no one outside our locker room gave us a chance – and we loved it.
In Week 2, we faced the defending champs themselves. As much as we might try to say that every game is equally important, there was no denying the rise in emotion that the painful memories from 2015 brought.
Before we left our locker room, captain Chris Colavita pulled up an image of Army’s players storming the field after beating us a year ago. He asked us to remember that pain, to make sure we’d never experience that again. It was on now.
So we came out with unparalleled energy, jumped out to a 14-3 lead by the half, and held on when Quinn Karam intercepted Army’s Hail Mary attempt on the final play. It was straight out of a movie; underdog beats favorite, players storm the field, etc.
For most teams, if you beat the defending national champions on a walk-off play, that’s probably the pinnacle of your season. But we were just getting started.
Navy came to Franklin Field two weeks later, holding a 3-0 record that matched ours. We knew a battle was coming, but even we couldn’t have predicted the craziness of the game’s conclusion.
The Midshipmen scored a touchdown with under a minute remaining, tying the score at 23 apiece with only an extra point needed to send us into the loss column.
There aren’t many feelings worse than that. We’d just let our championship slip away. Then the kick goes up. Wide right.
Holy sh*t. We have new life. Or so we think, before a flag comes down. It’s roughing the kicker – Navy gets another chance at most routine play there is.
But then that kick goes wide left. Navy just needed to make one of two kicks to send us home, and missed both.
What. Just. Happened.
This wasn’t even straight out of a movie – professional screenwriters have standards. We go on to win in overtime as Colavita recovers a fumble. Again, we get the storming of the field, the scoreboard pics, the celebration at the Blarney Stone – everything. Even if our season stopped right there, we’d have gone down in history.
Which is why it was pretty surprising that our most insane game hadn’t even come yet. To summarize our showdown against Cornell would require a full newspaper by itself.
But to keep it brief, that team had us beat. Cornell had the perfect plan to pull off the upset, and our sideline was absolutely imploding. Down eight points with only 101 seconds to travel 93 yards, it looked like our undefeated season would go down the drain against a team we knew we were better than.
Then Mike led the two-minute drill of his life, punctuated by an eight-yard two-point conversion pass. Personifying that game as well as any play possibly could, offensive tackle Angelo Matos somehow caught a touchdown in the second overtime, then Jack Hennigan (and kind of Tom Console) secured a pick on Cornell’s next play, and we stole a game we had no business winning.
The following week, we secured that solo championship we had all worked toward for months. There’s just no way to put that euphoria into words. We always expected that ring to be ours, but once it was actually done, it still felt like a dream. And there’s nothing else in this world that gives off that feeling.
Being a walk-on, I finished high school thinking I would never put a pair of pads on again. To be granted a second chance to play this sport is a blessing on its own – but to have that experience come for a title-winning team, when I, like most of my teammates not named Console, had never won any form of football championship prior to Penn, is more than I ever could’ve asked for.
Of course, pure football is only half of the equation. As wild as these wins were, those memories were matched by the times spent joking around during team meals, playing ‘Mafia’ in hotels during road trips, hitting Boys’ Nights Out at the Blarn, getting rowdy while supporting the rightful Mr. Penn, Brendan Lilley – times that are equally important to the camaraderie of a team.
This year was an unbelievable ride, and I couldn’t be more grateful to my teammates, coaches and whoever is responsible for sprint football existing as a sport for letting it happen. We wanted nothing more than that championship, and we’ll all remember that journey for the rest of our lives.
So when that ring finally does show up, I won’t be taking it off for a long time.
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