A hard-fought game, but another tough result against the Black Knights.
In coach Bill Wagner’s last season opener ever, Penn sprint football was unable to complete its comeback as time expired, suffering a 24-21 loss to Army at Franklin Field on Friday night.
It was a slow start to the game for the Quakers (0-1) as they struggled offensively in the first quarter. After a three-and-out to start the game, Penn’s offense was in a position to score after a 47-yard run by sophomore running back Laquan McKever. But the drive ultimately ended in a turnover as senior quarterback Eddie Jenkins was intercepted at the Army (1-0) 16-yard line.
After another Penn three-and-out, Army scored its first touchdown of the game on a 62-yard pass from junior quarterback Ryan Sullivan to senior running back Jake Gigliotti. On the very next offensive play, Jenkins was picked off again, leading to a 14-0 Army lead by the beginning of the second quarter.
“We have a lot of things to clean up, our pass game obviously. I wasn’t happy with my passing performance tonight,” Jenkins said.
The Quakers were able to pick things up in the second quarter. Midway through the first half, the Red and Blue drove the ball 70 yards in 19 plays, chewing up more than 11 minutes of clock while getting close to the end zone. However, Penn was unable to convert a fourth and 1 on Army’s five-yard line, heading to halftime still down 14-0.
“We were down 14, and we decided we wanted to get back in the game. That’s why we went for it on fourth and 1 instead of kicking a field goal,” Wagner said.
Putting the first half behind them, the Quakers seemed like a different team in the second half. After a fumble recovery on an Army punt return, the Red and Blue took just three plays to score their first touchdown. A 38-yard reception by sophomore wide receiver Brendan McCaffrey set up a Jenkins 14-yard rushing touchdown to put his team on the board. On Penn's next offensive possession, Jenkins scored again, this time on a three-yard rushing touchdown to knot the game at 14.
After allowing 14 unanswered points, Army was able to put together a scoring drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Black Knights capped off a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 5-yard pitch-and-catch between Sullivan and junior wideout Justin Charette for a touchdown. The Quakers were quick to respond, though, as Jenkins found senior wide receiver Billy Murphy on a 39-yard pass to set himself up for his third rushing touchdown of the night, this time from one yard out.
“When Eddie [Jenkins] runs the ball, we essentially have another blocker,” Wagner said. “Also, when Laquan [McKever] is starting to have a good game, the defense jumps him which clears the way for Eddie.”
With the game tied at 21, Army showed its championship mentality in the final stretch of the contest. The Black Knights drove down the field on their next possession and kicked a chip-shot field goal to take a 24-21 lead with 4:20 left in the game. In Penn's opportunity to tie the game or take the lead, Jenkins was intercepted for the third time.
Penn’s defense got the ball right back for the offense, but a sack and three incompletions later, the Red and Blue turned the ball over on downs.
After yet another quick stop by the defense, the Quakers had 31 seconds to score.
On the first play of the drive, Jenkins found McCaffrey on a 30-yard completion to the Army 40-yard line. After a spike to stop the clock, the senior quarterback completed a pass to junior wide reciever Barry Klein for 12 yards. Two plays later with 13 seconds left, Jenkins was forced out of the pocket to scrabble and was unable to get out of bounds. With Penn having no timeouts left, the clock expired.
“I stepped into the pocket on the last play, saw a lot of open field in front of me, and my natural instincts kicked in to take off and start running. I thought maybe I could get down with enough time to spike the ball for one more play,” Jenkins said.
After this heartbreaking loss to Army, the Quakers may get a chance at redemption if both teams make it to the Collegiate Sprint Football League Championship in November at Franklin Field. Looking ahead at what's next, Penn will have another big game, this time against Cornell — the only other Ivy League team in the CSFL — on Friday night in Ithaca, N.Y.
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