What a difference one week can make.
After struggling offensively against Army last week, Penn sprint football bounced back with a commanding 45-14 win over Cornell on Friday night.
Junior defensive back Tom Console made the first big play of the game for Penn (3-1, 2-0 South Division), intercepting Cornell (2-1, 0-0 North Division) quarterback Connor Ostrander to give the Quakers the ball at their own 48. Sophomore quarterback Eddie Jenkins did the rest, leading Penn on a nine play, 52-yard drive that ended on a two-yard design run from the dual-threat quarterback.
The two-yard run was one of Jenkins' four first-half touchdowns — two on the ground and two through the air. His impressive performance resulted in twice as many touchdowns as incompletions in the first half.
“We had a good day offensively, and everything was really clicking,” Jenkins said.
Following Jenkins’s first rushing touchdown, senior linebacker Quinn Karam recovered an Ostrander fumble in the end zone after sophomore linebacker Matteo Murgia forced a strip sack, pushing the score to 14-0.
“It felt amazing. It’s my first time getting in the end zone as a college player,” Karam said. “But truth be told, I owe it all to my dude Matteo Murgia, who got a great hit on [the quarterback] before he could get the pass off.”
With a ton of momentum, Penn continued its surgical precision on offense and dominant play on defense. The offense engineered touchdown drives on three of its last four offensive possessions in the first half while the defense forced three turnovers, helping the Red and Blue go into halftime with a 35-0 lead.
Despite dominating the game on both sides of the ball, the first half was not all good news for the Quakers. Towards the beginning of the second quarter, Console, one of Penn’s leaders in the secondary, suffered a shoulder injury and was forced to leave the game. Fortunately for the Red and Blue, he was able to return to the field and did not miss any further action.
To start the second half, Penn briefly gave Cornell some energy after junior running back Jake Klaus fumbled in the red zone. Cornell then ran for a two-yard touchdown on its ensuing offensive possession to bring the score to 35-7.
However, Penn bounced right back after an 86-yard touchdown from Jenkins to senior wide receiver Andrew Sutton for his third passing touchdown of the game (fifth total). From here, the Quakers took their foot off the gas and began rotating the first stringers out of the game.
Aside from wanting to win the game, Penn travelled to Ithaca looking to correct some of the many issues that plagued them against Army.
Last week, one of its main problems was turnovers.
This week, besides the miscue from Klaus when already up 35-0, the offense was able to hold onto the ball and not give Cornell extra possessions. Penn also made Cornell pay for its mistakes, scoring 21 points off turnovers — including the Karam fumble recovery in the endzone.
In addition to fewer turnovers, the Quakers were able to establish a running game. After finishing the Army game with a net total of negative 32 yards on the ground, Penn found its running game early and often, gashing the Big Red defense for 137 yards and two scores on the ground.
The Red and Blue also saw more success through the air, finding holes in the Big Red secondary for 336 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
“We were able to spread the ball around to all the receivers outside,” Jenkins said.
All of Penn’s leading wideouts — Sutton, junior Aidan Kelly, and senior Marcus Jones — had touchdowns.
In addition to the wideouts, sophomore tight end Billy Murphy rebounded from his two drop outing against Army to haul in four receptions for 43 yards, giving Jenkins a security blanked when his deep threats were not open.
Still, the big improvement offensively was in large part due to better blocking from the offensive line. After being hailed as possibly one of the best sprint football offensive lines in recent memory, the talented group struggled against a stout Army defensive line, surrendering seven sacks and numerous quarterback hurries.
“We definitely took it very personally after our performance against Army,” sophomore tackle Matt McDermott said. “So we got together, watched film, made sure in practice we went over everything technically.”
Few were more happy to see the offense get back on track than its defense, who have carried the burden of keeping Penn in the game the past two weeks.
“I know when our offense has an off game, we’re going to pick them up and when we have an off game, they’ll pick us up,” Karam said. “But it was great to see our guys get back to scoring big like we know they’ll be doing the rest of the year.”
Looking ahead, Penn plays Post in two weeks following the upcoming bye week. The week following Post, the Quakers will play a de facto South Division championship game when it plays Navy on October 27th,
This win is a huge confidence boost for Penn’s championship hopes, but it still needs to run the table if it hopes to rematch Army and defend its CSFL championship.
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