In a year of ecstatic highs and devastating lows, we decided it was time to reflect on the peaks of 2016 in the realm of Penn sports. There were nearly a dozen contenders, but in the end, we could only choose a few. Here are the editors’ picks on the best moments in Penn Athletics in 2016:
Senior Sports Editor-elect Will Snow:
Penn Athletics’ best moment of the year came on the worst weekend. It was Friday, Nov. 11, and the entire campus was in shock after news broke of a horrific, racist GroupMe that targeted all black freshmen at Penn. The community was feeling all sorts of emotions — outrage, grief and fear. If there was anything that could even attempt to bring people together and heal hearts, it was sports.
Penn football was hosting Harvard at Franklin Field in a do-or-die match-up: win, and they could take one step closer to a second Ivy League title in as many years. Lose, however, and they would be knocked out of contention after being blown out by Princeton just a week earlier.
It was a defensive battle: Penn’s first points came off a pick-six from defensive end Louis Vecchio. What’s more, the Quakers’ final points came off a defensive touchdown too, as junior Tayler Hendrickson recovered a fumble in the end zone as time expired to send the Red and Blue into delirium. That made the final score 27-14, but Harvard was in it the whole way — the Crimson tied it up on a trick-play with just two minutes left in the game.
Amid the protests that occurred throughout the game and the palpable emotion, Penn found a way to win through their most reliable partnership, Alek Torgersen and Justin Watson. The quarterback-wideout duo combined with just 15 seconds left to put the game out of reach.
The win was Penn’s second straight over Harvard, and it brought them one step away from a second straight Ivy title, which they would go on to win the following week at Cornell. On top of that, the dramatic victory cemented a narrative years in the making that the Quakers have gotten really good at playing spoilsports to Harvard in the Crimson’s pursuit of Ancient Eight domination. Since 2007, Harvard has gone 60-10 in Ivy play. Five of those losses have come at the hands of Penn — including two of the three conference games the Crimson have dropped in the last three years.
But most importantly of all, it brought an ounce of happiness back to a campus that had been devastated by an awful day of news. And while it’s clear that not every student cares about the football team, it at least gave the student body something to cheer about and rally around. After all, isn’t that really what sports are all about?
Sports Editor-elect Jonathan Pollack:
For me, the best part of Penn Athletics this year was sprint football winning its first outright CSFL title since 2000, so the best moment should come from that season. While the team did have some spectacular moments throughout the season, including sweeping the service academies for the first time since that 2000 season and a thrilling overtime victory over Navy, the best moment was the title-clinching overtime triumph over Cornell at home on Senior Night.
The game was exhilarating from the get-go, as Cornell shocked the Quakers and recovered an onside kick on the opening kickoff. Penn was stymied by the Big Red on both sides of the ball for the majority of the game, and a pair of blocked extra points left the Quakers down 20-12 with just 1:42 left in the game and the ball at their own seven-yard line. Senior quarterback Mike McCurdy led the team all the way down the field with just 10 seconds to spare, tossing the TD pass to Chaz Augustini. The team needed to go for two in order to send the game to OT, and McCurdy found sophomore Jake Klaus to tie the game up at 20.
In the first overtime period, both defenses stood tall, intercepting passes and sending the game into a second overtime period. Penn started the second OT with the ball, and promptly drove it into the end zone for a TD. On the other side of the ball, an interception from sophomore Tom Console on the Big Red’s first pass of the OT period sealed the game, and the title, for the Quakers. While the Red and Blue went on to finish the job and win the title outright the next week, the game against Cornell is the one they all will remember.
Sports Editor-elect Cole Jacobson:
Personally, that sprint football win over Cornell will always stand out – a game with so many ridiculous twists that it seemed scripted, a game that clinched our first title in six years, and a game that resulted in arguably the best day of my life despite me not seeing a snap. But since I’m supposed to refrain from writing about my own team out of journalistic principles, I’ll shout out women’s basketball’s epic Ivy League-clinching win at Princeton as well.
Quite simply, there could not have been more at stake. As if the historic rivalry didn’t give the game enough fire, with both teams entering the showdown at 12-1 in Ivy League play, the contest served as a conference championship, with the winner also clinching an NCAA Tournament berth. Add in the recent history between the two teams – Penn won the conference title in 2014, Princeton in 2015 – and the buildup was pointing toward a game for the ages.
And even though this shouldn’t have been possible, the game lived up to the hype – and then some. Led by five blocks from Sydney Stipanovich, Mike McLaughlin’s defense held its own against the conference’s top offense, jumping out to a 32-26 halftime lead.
Princeton wouldn’t back down in a game that never saw a double-digit lead from either side, but 17 points from Anna Ross kept the Quakers afloat, and a clutch fourth quarter from Kasey Chambers including a wild off-balance three-pointer to beat the shot clock and a 4-for-4 performance from the free throw line in the final minute carried Penn to a 62-60 win. An emotional McLaughlin summed it up afterwards: “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
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