“We weren’t going to let Cornell stop us from winning an Ivy League Championship,” then-junior running back Brian Schoenauer said. And the Quakers didn't.
In 2015, Penn football’s five-game winning streak seemingly paved the way for yet another easy win in the title-clinching game against Cornell. Coming off its first win against Villanova in over 104 years and a victory over a Harvard team on a 22-game winning streak, the Red and Blue were at an all-time high.
“We were feeling pretty confident,” Schonauer said. “We were just kind of humming as a team.”
While this sentiment was echoed by many, then-junior quarterback, Alek Torgersen, had a different perspective.
“By nature, I’m slightly pessimistic,” Torgersen said. “We have this prime opportunity in front of us and every play’s got to be perfect; we have to execute to 100%.”
Unfortunately for Penn, Torgersen himself wasn’t at 100%. Unknown to many, he had suffered a partially torn MCL,
a fractured tibia, and a sprained ACL in the previous week’s matchup against Harvard.
With Torgersen’s mobility hindered, Penn had to change its game plan and limit the junior to a more stationary playing style. While Torgersen was still effective against Cornell, he faced an additional setback after the Quakers' first touchdown of the game.
"Someone kneed me in the hand really hard, and my whole hand was cut open," Torgersen said. "I remember it being pretty cold out too, so my hand was hurting the whole game."
With the numerous weapons at the offense's disposal, finding Torgersen help wasn’t much of a problem.
Five minutes into the first quarter, it was third and 3 at the Cornell 14. Penn’s offense lined up with Torgersen under center and wide receiver Eric Fiore deep in the backfield. After the snap, Fiore received a pitch from Torgersen and looked to the end zone to throw. Eyeing his first option — tight end Ryan O’Malley — Fiore looked for the defensive back to open up a throwing window for O’Malley. It didn’t happen.
“I don't think it's there,” Fiore said, thinking over his options. “I don't know if I should throw it.”
Looking over his progressions, he decided to go for it. Slinging it 14 yards to the back of the end zone, Fiore dropped the perfect throw to a tight spot where only O’Malley could snag it. The athletic 6-foot-6 tight end leaped over the defensive back and came down with the score.
“Honestly, I was kind of just mad he threw the perfect ball because it made everything I did that year seem so easy. I was like, 'oh my God,' maybe just put Fiore at quarterback all year!” Torgersen said.
Aside from simply being a perfectly executed play, the call was particularly special for Fiore and O’Malley.
“For it to be my connection to [O’Malley], he’s in my class and we’re both seniors. That's a great way to go out. I remember it not even feeling real,” Fiore added.
Although Cornell never folded, players noted that the “Philly Special-esque” trick play changed the momentum of the game.
With Cornell’s failed onside kick at the one-minute mark, the Red and Blue had capped off their memorable season with an Ivy League title. Coming fresh off a coaching change, with Ray Priore taking the helm, and a handful of losing seasons, few expected Penn to be successful. But they were.
With almost 50 bottles of champagne hidden out-of-sight from the coaches, the locker room exploded in celebration after the game. By the time the coaches walked in, the atmosphere was already through the roof. Players were popping champagne and dousing the room in bubbly excitement, concluding with an offensive lineman leaping onto a table and snapping it in half.
A fitting celebration for an amazing season, many players on that 2015 team echoed the significance of the year — one that brought the team closer.
“I think the energy from our team was something I’d never seen before. That whole 2015 run was something different,” Torgersen said.
For Torgersen, Schoenauer, and Fiore, that 2015 season was something special. Game after game, Penn proved people wrong and built a season to remember.
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