Entering the 2000 season, the Penn sprint football team hopes that the third time is a charm in its quest for perfection.<P> The Quakers finished the 1999 campaign with a 5-1 (3-1 Collegiate Sprint Football League) record for the second consecutive season. In both seasons, the lone loss for the Red and Blue came at the hands of Army.<P> A controversial 17-9 loss last year at West Point's Michie Stadium was all that stood between the Quakers and the first undefeated season in school history.<P> However, perfection will not come easily, as this year's squad will have some big holes to fill in the lineup, most notably the running back position vacated by three-time CSFL MVP Tim Ortman.<P> Ortman left West Philadelphia with all-time school records for rushing (3,670 yards) and touchdowns (43), as well as league records for single-season yards (1,218), touchdowns (16) and single-game rushing yards (363 against Navy) -- all of these coming in his senior season.<P> "No one's going to deny that he played a pretty big role on our team the past few years," senior Brad Gusich said. "But we have guys who can step up and do the job this year."<P> While Ortman's presence both on and off the field will certainly be missed, coach Bill Wagner is confident that his Quakers are in a position to once again contend for the league title.<P> "[Not having Ortman] will make us be a more balanced pass and run team," Wagner said. "We have two good tailbacks in [senior Chris] Wright and [sophomore Mark] Gannon."<P> The Quakers' offense returns 10 out of 11 starters to a squad that led the league in rushing (288.3 yards per game), total offense (422.0 ypg) and scoring (32.2 points per game) in 1999.<P> Senior captain John Kernan returns for his fourth season as the starting quarterback of a team that ran the ball 75% of the time in 1999. Despite a strong focus on the run, Kernan led the league in passing efficiency (133.7) for the second straight year and tied for the league lead with six touchdown passes. He currently stands third on the school's career passing yardage list with 1,441 yards -- just 520 yards short of breaking Tommy Frankel's school record of 1,960.<P> "We have a lot of weapons returning, so we won't miss a beat on offense. We'll have to run occasionally to control the ball, but yet we can strike in a lot of different ways," Wagner said.<P> On the defensive side of the ball, Wagner believes that the secondary -- anchored by senior cornerbacks Brad Gusich and Dan Rowcotsky -- is among the best he has ever seen.<P> "Our secondary will be solid -- we have the same people [returning] from last year," junior defensive back Diego Morales said.<P> Perhaps the biggest question looming over Penn's upcoming season is the kicking game. The Quakers lost first team All-CSFL placekicker David Sherman and his 31 points (3-of-4 field goals and 22-of-26 extra points) to graduation.<P> "The kicking game is a major concern for us right now," Wagner said. "Sherman was a seasoned veteran all-league kicker."<P> The Quakers open their season when Cornell pays a visit to Franklin Field on September 22. Last season, Penn swept the Big Red with a pair of 35-0 victories.<P> As has been the case for the last few years, Penn will battle the two service academies for league supremacy, but the Quakers can't focus on them just yet.<P> "Army and Navy will be our stiffest competition," Gusich said. "But you never know what Princeton or Cornell will do."<P> "The league will be very competitive again this year," Wagner said. "Teams will come looking for us."<P> All eyes will be on Franklin Field when Army comes to town on November 3, especially since Penn has beaten Army only twice in 43 attempts, most recently in 1996.<P> Before they get a chance for revenge, the Quakers face a critical three-game stretch on the road, including an October 20 visit to Annapolis.<P> "We play at home on September 22 and then not again until November -- that's a lot of time on the road," Gusich said.<P> "We played [Army] tough two years ago here. We're a good traveling team, but it's always nice to play at home in front of your buddies, especially after being on the road."<P> While last year's 5-1 finish equaled the best in the history of the program, the Quakers will settle for no less than an undefeated season.<P> "We definitely can go undefeated," Gusich said. "This is our year."<P> If all goes as planned, Penn will capture what would be their third CSFL championship in the last five seasons.<P>Comments powered by Disqus
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