Just call him magic Mike.
Freshman quarterback Mike McCurdy delivered a timely statement performance, slinging four second-half touchdowns to spearhead the Quakers’ 42-14 shellacking of Mansfield at Franklin Field Friday night.
In the first half, though, such a rout didn’t seem possible. The Quakers offense started slow, gaining only one first down in their first three drives. Lanes opened for neither junior running back Mike Beamish nor junior quarterback Keith Braccia, and there was a clear lack of rhythm for Penn (1-1).
“We didn’t execute the first time around when we had an opportunity to make some big plays,” coach Bill Wagner said.
Mansfield (1-1) struck first. The Mountaineers marched 91 yards on 16 plays to score just before the first quarter closed. During the drive, Mansfield’s run game kept the Quakers defense on its heels and the chains moving. The drive was fittingly capped off by a sensational three-yard run by running back Jeremy Estremera, in which he started to the right, switched direction and traversed the width of the field to sneak the ball inside the pylon.
Wagner described the defense’s first half play as “tentative.”
After the squads traded three-and-outs, the Quakers got on the board midway through the second quarter. Junior quarterback Keith Braccia delivered a strike to sophomore Jack Epstein on a 22-yard skinny post for the score.
Estremera scored his second touchdown on a five-yard sweep to put Mansfield up 14-7 just before the half.
Then everything changed.
On Penn’s first offensive play after the break, McCurdy connected on a 47-yard seam route to senior wide receiver Michael Bass, who burned his defender over the top. After an interception from Penn sophomore defensive back Stu Helgeson, it was déjà vu – McCurdy hit Bass deep once again for a 43-yard score on the first play of the drive.
“We were able to take advantage of some things we saw in the first half and exploit them early [in the second half],” McCurdy said.
Just when it looked like the Mountaineers had a response, Helgeson struck again, forcing a poor exchange in the Mansfield backfield and recovering the fumble himself.
The Quakers took their time on their next drive, benefiting from a hefty dose of tough running from Beamish. He finished off the 75-yard drive with a two-yard leap into the end zone. With that, the rout was officially on.
McCurdy and Bass hooked up once again for a deep score at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and Epstein caught his second touchdown seven minutes later.
McCurdy was surgical behind center. Ignoring his inconsequential interception on the last play of the first half, the freshman completed 12 of 13 passes for 237 yards passing and four touchdowns, three of which went for more than 36 yards.
“He’s got a very good arm,” Wagner stated.
Good enough to win him the starting job.
“I think that McCurty probably solidified himself as our first quarterback,” Wagner said.
Don’t expect Braccia to disappear, however.
“We’ve gotta find a way to play both [McCurty and Braccia], and we will,” Wagner said. “Braccia will probably will be a receiver.” The versatile Braccia had two receptions for 26 yards in the second half.
While the offense clearly put on a show, the defense also deserves credit. The young unit impressively pitched a second-half shutout. Increased pressure also forced the Mansfield offense to turn the ball over.
The team looks to find the right side of .500 against Cornell next Friday in Ithaca.
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