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2002-ivy-league-championship-title-penn

Mike Mitchel W'03 starred in his first year as a starter for the 2002 Quakers.

Credit: DP Archives

This story is part of a series on Penn football's 18 Ivy League titles. Click here to read about the team's 2000 championship.

Throughout Penn’s rich history in sports, it's hard to say that there was a season that was as outright dominant as the 2002 football season. Projected to finish fourth in the Ivy League that year, the Quakers were ready to start their revenge tour after only losing to undefeated Harvard in the season prior.

The concept of revenge rang most true for All-Ivy linebacker Steve Lhotak, who lost his man in the play that led to the Crimson spoiling Penn's Ivy League title bid in 2001. Using the loss as motivation, Lhotak would go on to lead the top-ranked defense in the Ivy League in 2002, and brought the Red and Blue to a 9-1 record and No. 17 ranking in the Football Championship Subdivision.

After graduating 22 seniors, the team was thought to be in a rebuilding year, even losing their all-time leading rushing and passing leaders at the time, Kris Ryan and Gavin Hoffman, respectively. However, Mike Mitchell picked up the slack as the new quarterback, despite not having played a snap since coming to Penn.

“A lot of us had to wait a long time to be the starter, to be the guy,” Mitchell said. “For us to take advantage of these chances, it helped us realize these times we actually play are very precious.”

And take advantage he did: Mitchell threw for a staggering 2,803 yards and 20 touchdowns with a 65% completion rate that year, going down as one of the best seasons in history out of all Penn quarterbacks.

When the team started the season with commanding victories against Lafayette and FCS No. 4 Lehigh, the Quakers knew that they had found a winning formula. Penn came out on top in three of its next four games, only losing to a Villanova team that made it all the way to the FCS semifinals, and beating Ivy foe Columbia by a dominant 44-0 scoreline.

The Red and Blue were on a roll, and no Ivy League team could slow them down. The final scores that season made the teams the Quakers were playing look like obligatory scrimmages to local high schools: 41-20 over Yale, 31-7 against Brown, and a 44-13 drubbing on archrival Princeton's home field.

However, there was no win that the Quakers wanted more than against the projected repeat champion of the Ivy League conference, Harvard. This was the biggest Ivy League game of the year, and even ESPN knew it.

On Nov. 16, 2002, Lee Corso and the gang made their way to the historic Franklin Field to cover the game; this would be the first time in history that an FCS game was covered on ESPN's College Gameday. A cheer roared through the crowd as Corso dressed up as Ben Franklin to predict a dominating Penn win over the visiting Crimson, proving to be an even more historic day for the program than anyone could have ever imagined.

Almost as if Corso was a fortune teller, Harvard proved to be no challenge for the pure dominance that was the 2002 Quakers. The lopsided score says it all: 44-9.

Wide receiver Rob Milanese came ready to play, notching nine receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown.

“They couldn’t cover the guy … double coverage? It didn’t matter. The guy was just blessed with amazing speed, amazing quickness, and amazing hands,” Mitchell said of Milanese's performance.

With an Ivy League title in the bag after an incredible victory against the Crimson on national television, the season finale against Cornell was merely an afterthought: the Quakers crushed them 31-0.

It is hard to think of a squad that was as spectacular in Penn football’s history as the 2002 team. The average margin of victory against conference opponents was 30 points. The offense was dominant and the defense was even better, ranking as the best rushing defense in the FCS that season, giving up only 55.8 yards per game on the ground. If there was one word that would describe this team, it was as simple as this: overpowering.

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