This story is part of a series on Penn football's 18 Ivy League titles. Click here to read about the team's 1985 championship.
It all came together for Penn football in 1986.
For the first time since 1904, the Quakers accomplished a perfect season, en route to their fifth straight Ivy League championship.
Heading into the 1986 campaign, the Red and Blue undertook a coaching change that saw former assistant Ed Zubrow take the reins from Jerry Berndt. The task may have seemed especially daunting for the new head coach, since Berndt had led the team to four previous Ivy League titles, but Zubrow and his staff handled the transition with ease.
“It was interesting because we had a ton of talent and a lot of characters as well,” linebacker Brad Heinz said. “They didn’t micromanage. They let us do what we had to do. They always gave us a good game plan but at the same time, with their blessing, they gave us the freedom to be ourselves — which was really important to the success of the team.”
The Quakers were off to a hot start through the first four games of the season, defeating Dartmouth, Bucknell, Columbia, and Brown by a combined 107-21 margin. But next on the schedule was Navy.
Not only had the Quakers not beaten a Division I-A opponent since 1963, but they had been routed by the Midshipmen in each of the past two seasons.
On Oct. 18, the Red and Blue rolled into Annapolis, Md. as 24-point underdogs, but by the end of the day, Penn emerged victorious, beating Navy 30-26. Tight end Brent Novoselsky caught three of the four touchdown passes as the Quakers spoiled Navy’s homecoming while beginning to realize just how good they really were.
“We walked into the stadium, the place was packed, gray, white and blue everywhere — it’s the biggest crowd we’ve ever played in front of, for sure,” Heinz said. “We’re looking around like, ‘Oh man, all right, game on, let’s do this.'"
With Navy in the rearview window, there was no stopping the Quakers.
The Red and Blue had little trouble against the next opponents on their schedule — the likes of Princeton, Lafayette, and Harvard — setting up a matchup against Cornell for the Ivy League championship. On Nov. 22, No. 6 Penn traveled to Ithaca, N.Y. to face the No. 17 Big Red. It was the first time since 1968 that teams with undefeated Ivy League records met to determine the championship.
On both sides of the ball, it was the run game that would dictate the outcome of the game. Going into the game, Cornell averaged 162 yard on the ground, but the Quakers’ defense limited the Big Red to a total of 12 yards rushing. Defensively, the Big Red had limited opponents an average of 92 yards on the ground, but Penn racked up 255 rushing yards on its way to winning the conference title.
“Our running was the key to the game,'' Zubrow said. ''That was particularly pleasing because nobody had run successfully against Cornell.”
Leading the way for the Quakers was running back Rich Comizio, who rushed for 162 yards and a touchdown on 29 attempts.
In the end, the Quakers won their 10th game of the season, 31-21, over the Big Red and celebrated with hundreds of Penn fans that not only made the trip to Ithaca but rushed the field when the final whistle sounded, cementing their status as one of the program's most accomplished teams.
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