This one's going to hurt.
On a frigid night in West Point, New York, Penn sprint football fell to Army 10-0 in the inaugural Collegiate Sprint Football League Championship. The Quakers (6-2, 4-0 CSFL South) were shut out for the first time since 2011, while the Black Knights (8-0, 3-0 CSFL North) claimed their 35th league title and 18th perfect season.
Even though Penn was shut out, it dominated much of the game on both sides of the ball. The Red and Blue held the ball for more than 40 minutes of the game, more than doubled the Black Knights' outputs in total yards and first downs, and kept a potent Army offense from getting into any sort of rhythm. But Penn couldn't string together all the plays at once to put points on the board.
While the Quakers failed to capitalize on their opportunities, the Black Knights took full advantage of the Red and Blue's mistakes. Those mistakes mostly came on special teams: the lone touchdown of the game was scored on a blocked punt, and the Quakers missed two field goals.
"It's really hurting a lot, I'm heartbroken," coach Bill Wagner said. "It's a big, big disappointment when you play that well and you have a couple key plays that go against you, and you really outplay a team and you let the championship slip away."
Army got the scoring going on its first possession of the game. Despite having great field position — the Black Knights began at Penn's 24-yard line after a short Penn punt — Army was stymied by Penn's defense, and it had to settle for a field goal.
The Quakers' ensuing drive encapsulated the offensive struggles that plagued the team the entire game: a 15 play, 60-yard drive that took up nearly 10 minutes, but stalled inside the red zone. Penn opted to go for a 4th-and-6 from Army's 19, but pressure from the Black Knight's defensive line forced sophomore quarterback Eddie Jenkins into making a bad throw.
Penn's next drive was almost identical. With several big pick-ups on 3rd-and-longs, the Red and Blue once again moved deep into Army territory. But the Quakers were unable to move past Army's 18, and they missed the field goal attempt.
"We didn't execute on offense a couple of times when we had an opportunity," Wagner said. "I chose to go for the field goal and the snaps were high, the kick was high and wide, and we couldn't put points on the board."
After Penn got the ball back from Army on the next possession, the Black Knights forced a three-and-out at Penn's 22. But instead of a routine punt, several Army players broke through Penn's line and blocked the punt. The ball jumped backwards towards the end zone, where Army's Jake Marchillo scooped it up and brought it back for six.
The second half saw more of the same. A dominant defense kept the Quakers in the game, but the offense failed to convert long drives into points.
Penn's last best effort ended much like the previous two. The Quakers marched the ball 65 yards down the field on just eight plays, but the Black Knights stopped Penn at the 12. With 8:34 left in the game, Penn opted for another field goal attempt, which went wide left.
To its credit, Penn's defense put in a performance for the ages. The unit handed the Black Knight's offense, the best unit in the league, its worst performance of the season. Penn gave up just three points, 132 yards, nine first downs, and no touchdowns, all season lows.
"Honestly, we came out here in this cold weather, and the first thing we all did was get hype and start yelling," senior captain and linebacker Quinn Karam said. "So we were excited as soon as we got out here, and it just carried onto the field. We had a good defensive scheme, and everyone was fired up and running around, we just played well."
It was an emotional end of the night for the Red and Blue, especially the seniors, who played in their final game. But the Quakers could hold their heads high at the end of the night, knowing they gave it all.
"Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is pride," Karam said about the team. "I'm not the kind of kid to pretend. You know, if we played bad I'd say we played bad and we should have done better, but this team played unbelievable."
This loss is certainly going to sit with the team for some time. But the Quakers will be back, ready to fight again next season.
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