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QB Jimmer Donapel stepped in for Penn last season after John Kernan was sidelined with an injury. Donapel will lead the Quakers again this year.[Will Burhop/DP File Photo]

Last season they were undefeated, claiming the Collegiate Sprint Football Conference title. For the first time ever, they defeated both Army and Navy in the same season.

Yet Princeton's student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, somehow managed to label the Quakers championship "a fluke."

From '98-'99, the Penn sprint football team went 10-2 and the Quakers topped it off last year with a perfect record, 6-0.

Fluke? You do the math.

The four senior captains -- David Berkley, Matt Ragsdale, Brian Dubin and Diego Morales -- know last year was not a fluke.

They know how to win and they have the numbers to back them.

They know they did not "squeak out a game against West Point" to "surprisingly [take] home the conference title," as the Princetonian claimed.

And they also know they are going to defend their title in every minute of every game this season.

"These guys have played well the last three years together," Penn coach Bill Wagner said. "They were ignited by the graduating seniors, so now this senior group has to ignite my young freshman and sophomores and we have to continue to keep going. That's pretty much the game plan."

A tradition has begun and they want to continue it.

"We want to show the new guys what Penn football is all about -- and that's winning games," Ragsdale said.

The new Quakers and returning players need to fill a few spots on an offense that led the CSFL last season, averaging 385.3 yards per game. The most notable losses include the program's second all-time leading passer, John Kernan, reigning CSFL MVP Scott Moore and the multi-dimensional Robert Reeves.

"Quite a void was left by the seniors," Dubin said. "[The number of seniors this year] can't possibly fill the void.... That's why it's so important that guys like Jeff Bagnoli, Mark Gannon and Jimmer [Donapel] all contribute to the leadership on the field."

Juniors Bagnoli and Gannon and sophomore Donapel proved last season they were ready to fill the voids by the 2000 graduates.

The versatile Bagnoli earned first-team All-CSFL honors and led the team in kick returns (110 yards) and punt returns (107 yards), while running back Gannon was a two-time CSFL Player of the Week and first-team All-CSFL honoree.

And, when QB Kernan broke his jaw early in the season against Navy, Donapel seized the opportunity to showcase his skills. The then-freshman threw for 432 yards and rushed for 134 more.

Although the Quakers were hit by graduation, the offensive line is almost completely intact. The team returns first-team CSFL lineman Dubin, second-team CSFL lineman Berkley, honorable mention CSFL linemen Adam Smiley and Robert Pavlacka.

Best known for their hard-nosed defense, the Quakers lost a host of graduates. Although they will be missed, Penn has faith in its defense.

"We've had some really good practices and we're fully confident that new guys will be able to step in and do as good of a job as last year," Ragsdale said. "We're going to keep the defensive tradition going."

Tonight, Cornell's aggressive offense will be ready to test Penn, as the Quakers travel to New York. Like every other team in the league Cornell will be "gunning for Penn," Wagner said.

"We've worked very hard to get to be the top dog," the Penn coach said. "But it's even harder to stay the top dog."

If hard work is what it will take, Penn is ready. Staying at the top is what the Quakers want.

"We expect a lot," Dubin said. "Cornell is the first game on the road to the championship."

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