Years from now, if two Penn players who were at Franklin Field on Friday night happen to run into each other, they will almost certainly pause after the expected greetings of two old college teammates. They'll pause, and their minds will reach back to a single night of glory, to a night of unforgettable football. Then they'll start talking about the night when Penn beat Army for the third time in sprint football history, 20-16, a night when the Quakers clinched at least a share of the Collegiate Sprint Football League Championship. "I have to say this is probably the best feeling after any athletic event ever," Penn junior defensive back Matt Ragsdale said. With the band playing and the cheerleaders kicking the 700-plus rowdy fans -- some painted red and blue and wearing "Beat Army" shirts -- into high gear before kickoff, it was impossible to miss the importance of the game. Two undefeated teams were about to do battle in the second-to-last game of the season. It was indeed a battle of the best. "We just wanted everyone to know that we are the better team," Penn senior captain Robert Reeves said. The Quakers struck quickly. They forced Army to punt shortly after the opening kickoff, then marched 55 yards on a 10-play drive that ended with a connection from freshman quarterback Jim Donapel to sophomore wide receiver Jeff Bagnoli that put the Quakers up 6-0 in the first period. "The whole team played as one unit," Penn sophomore linebacker Steve Willard said. "Our offense picked up our defense, and our defense picked up our offense." Army, not to be outdone, answered back in the second quarter when Cadets senior Mike Costano ran for a six-yard touchdown. Paul Stelzer's extra point gave Army a 7-6 advantage. Pumped by the lead, the Cadets defense stormed onto the field to force senior Scott Moore to punt. But Moore turned the tide of emotion when he kicked a 37-yard punt, pinning Army at the one-yard line. Army's ensuing drive stalled, and the Black Knights were forced to punt. Penn sophomore Tim Murphy fielded the kick and then handed the ball to Bagnoli, who ran to Army's 24-yard line. Donapel then completed a pass to Moore, who ran for 12 yards to give the Quakers another first down at the Army 12-yard line. Sophomore standout Mark Gannon, who led Penn with 107 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns, proceeded to punch the ball into the end zone with a 12-yard scamper that put Penn up, 12-7. With a mere five-point lead, Penn decided to go for the two-point conversion. The Quakers decided to pass, and Donapel tossed a ball into the back of the end zone, which Moore managed to catch with an NBA-caliber leap. Penn was up 14-7. Army, which beat Penn for the Red and Blue's only loss of last season, was not ready to let the Quakers exact sweet revenge, however. Storming onto the field after a brief timeout, senior Cadets quarterback Jon Hall connected with junior Nate Thompson for a 67-yard touchdown. Failing to convert the extra point, Penn kept a one point lead, 14-13. Just as determined as its offense, Army's defense stopped Penn's next drive. With 51 seconds remaining, Army found itself in an ideal position to take the lead -- second-and-seven at the 14-yard line. But Penn senior defensive lineman Kevin Manning had another plan in mind. He intercepted a Hall pass and prevented the Cadets from taking the lead. The play sent an electrifying shock throughout the entire stadium as Quakers and Cadets left the field at halftime. The back-and-forth play of two stubborn teams marked the scoreless third quarter. But 30 seconds into the fourth, Army broke the spell when Stelzer's 39-yard field goal gave the Black Knights a 16-14 lead. Penn, for what seemed like an eternity, could not answer back. "The second to last series, I was on the sidelines about to cry. I thought we had lost it," senior linebacker Mike Viney said. "Then when we were winning, I had tears in my eyes from winning. So it was an emotional high and low in about five minutes." Viney's near tears of sadness turned to tears of joy as Penn resumed playing like a championship team. After Penn's defense forced an Army punt, the offense took charge. Moore once again came up big. On fourth-and-three at the Penn 43-yard line, Penn coach Bill Wagner decided to gamble and go for it. Donapel threw a pass to Moore well downfield, who dove through double coverage and hauled in a pass to keep the Red and Blue alive. With adrenaline pumping, Gannon continued the surge when he weaved through Army's defense for a 15-yard run to give Penn another first down. With the stadium roaring, the offense continued to pound the ball down the field until Gannon's final five-yard dash plowed over Army's Randy Boland to give the Quakers a 20-16 lead with just under three minutes to go. The finale was left to the Penn defense. On third-and-13, Manning dove to try to sack Hall, but the wily quarterback got a pass off to try for the winning touchdown. With 33 seconds left, senior Brad Gusich stepped in front of the Army receiver and pulled down an unbelievable interception at the 16-yard line. After the Penn victory, with celebratory water streaming down his face, Wagner stood proud as his 31st sprint team went down in the books as one of the greatest squads in Penn's history -- the only Penn team to beat two academies. To complete an undefeated season -- the first in Penn history -- the Quakers will have to beat Princeton this Friday. "You don't want any other game than that when it's for a championship," Army quarterback Jon Hall said. "Penn definitely played a great game. Hats off to them."Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.