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For the 2009 Quakers, it was time to let loose.

Time to rush midfield and offer hugs up and down the roster. Time to pour Gatorade on their coaches, who, with mixed success, tried to scamper away from the green-colored iced liquid. Time to light stogies and sing in unison after Saturday’s title-clinching victory at Harvard Stadium.

“It’s like being on top of the world,” said senior linebacker Jake Lewko, who helped deliver yet another incredible defensive stand, this time at the goal line, to all but seal the victory with 2:44 remaining.

“Everything we worked for the past four years, everything that’s come down to this one game, and after that [stop], it finally hit me: ‘Wow. We got this. It’s done.’ It’s just an amazing feeling.”

It’s a feeling that, though new to these Quakers, is plenty familiar to coach Al Bagnoli. But this title, the program’s 14th, has to feel different. Bagnoli won six championship rings in his first 12 years at Penn — and none since 2003.

“You know, the sportswriters aren’t right very often,” Bagnoli said with a smile on Saturday. “But if you actually go back to the preseason poll: No. 1, 2 and 3 had Harvard, Penn and Brown.”

We’ll take the backhanded compliment, and here’s one with more sincerity: This might be Bagnoli’s most impressive coaching job yet. If anybody had known that Penn would be forced to cycle through four quarterbacks and deploy its top receiver under center to hold everything together, then nobody, not even the ever-prescient media, would have picked the Quakers to win it all.

It wasn’t all that long ago, remember, that some people questioned whether Bagnoli, the longest-tenured coach in Penn’s 132-year history, had lost his touch.

Even after a 4-6 season in 2007, Bagnoli’s first losing campaign at Penn, Athletic Director Steve Bilsky entertained no such thoughts.

“If the average person wakes up once a night wondering what’s happening to Penn Football, [Bagnoli is] probably not sleeping at all,” Bilsky said back then. “If anyone can figure it out and get it turned around, he’s definitely the guy to do that.”

Bilsky was right.

During the past offseason, Bagnoli retooled the entire offense to complement Keiffer Garton’s skills. Only one problem: the mobile quarterback hurt his elbow, then his knee, and missed more than half the season.

So much for the new look.

Bagnoli also didn’t have an elite receiver or top-flight rusher, especially as injuries spread through the tailbacks.

So as he cycled through Kyle Olson (knee, shoulder), Billy Ragone (broken collarbone), John Hurley and then Olson again, Bagnoli stuck with the slash but knew when to adapt, too. The Quakers’ starless offense finally clicked over the past few weeks with a more traditional, run-and-gun attack.

Penn’s best-in-the-nation defense clearly anchored this team. Some things, though, come from the top, and it’s no coincidence that the Quakers had the fewest penalty yards in Division I and the best turnover margin in the Ivy League.

And for the first time in years, the Quakers regained some of their swagger, expecting the best instead of bracing for the worst.

The tilt with Harvard had been circled on everyone’s calendar since the preseason. Sure enough, things played out exactly as expected.

Except for everything that didn’t.

But in the end, Bagnoli is back on top.

“You gotta define what back is,” Bagnoli said. “If back is you’re trying to make a run where you have two and three championships and kind of go back on that kind of run, then this is it.”

David Gurian-Peck is a College and Wharton senior from New York. He can be contacted at

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