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Entering Saturday’s matchup with Navy’s sprint football team, the Quakers knew that in order to snap their opponent’s 25-game winning streak, there would be little margin for error.

So when Penn quarterback Todd Busler fumbled on Navy’s nine-yard line near the end of the third quarter with the Quakers down 14-10, it looked as if the squandered red zone opportunity and turnover might have cost Penn its chance at a huge upset.

But what happened soon after encapsulates just how the Quakers were able to pull off the remarkable 24-14 victory at the Allegiance Bowl in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

After the turnover, Navy (2-1) marched all the way down to Penn’s 27-yard line, poised to score and cushion its lead. However, Navy quarterback Tyler Terronez fired an incomplete pass on second down, and on the very next play, Penn senior linebacker Gage O’Connell sacked Terronez. The Midshipmen were backed up 15 yards and forced to punt.

That defensive stance set up the game-changing sequence in the fourth quarter. A first-down handoff to Penn running back Mike Bagnoli resulted in a two-yard loss, but Busler went play-action on the next down. He found receiver Whit Shaw, who didn’t stop running until he was in the endzone.

The 83-yard play, plus the extra point, gave Penn (3-0) a 17-14 lead.

“To stop them [Navy] there and then get that score was just huge,” O’Connell said. “I think it really demoralized them, and it really got everyone on our team really going.”

Penn scored again later when linebacker Anthony DiBella sacked Terronez in Navy’s own endzone, forcing a fumble that running back Matt Cuccinello recovered for the Quakers. It was one of four forced fumbles that Penn had in the game.

“The defense was lights out in the second half,” Bagnoli said in reference to Navy’s inability to score after halftime. “The way they played was just inspiring and unbelievable. I’m so happy to say that they played for Penn.”

For his part, Bagnoli — named the game’s MVP — anchored the team’s offense, rushing for 104 yards on 29 carries. His five-yard touchdown run in the first quarter got Penn on the board first and helped set the tone for the game.

“We made a huge statement from the beginning of the game that we were there to play,” Bagnoli added. “I don’t think they were ready for it.”

The last time Penn beat Navy was during the 2000 season, during which the Quakers went undefeated and captured the Collegiate Sprint Football League title.

Ten years later, history can repeat itself, but once again, Penn will be working with a small margin for error if they want to sweep Mansfield, Cornell, and Army.

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