In a 40-10 win against Caldwell (4-1), Penn sprint football (4-1) showed that, once again, they cannot be stopped as of late.
But Friday night’s thrashing was a bit different from its previous three wins. This time, the Quakers were facing an undefeated 4-0 team, one of the best in the Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL).
“There were lots of nerves coming into the game because they’re a very good football team,” junior quarterback Andrew Paolini said. “They’re a really physical team so we prepared hard.”
Despite their diligent preparations — from lengthy film sessions with coaches to time spent on the field post-practice — Penn’s offense found itself off to a slow start.
Electing to receive the kickoff and start on offense, Penn couldn’t garner any momentum, resulting in a quick three-and-out.
Luckily for the Quakers, the defense came to the offense’s aid. On Caldwell's first drive of the game, the defensive line flushed quarterback Frank DeMaio out of the pocket and forced him to throw the ball away.
With the pressure in DeMaio’s face, a ball that should have gone easily out of bounds came out short and was toe-tapped in for an interception by senior defensive back Sam Mintz.
The impressive play by both the defensive line and the secondary set Paolini and the offense up for redemption.
After carries by running backs Laquan McKever and Tom Rebstock, Paolini was sacked for a loss of five yards. Unable to cash in on Mintz’s impressive pick, the offense was forced to punt yet again.
With another impressive stop on defense, the offense’s disjointed funk continued. Starting from their own 17-yard line, a poor snap forced Paolini to fall on the ball at his own one-yard line.
With the short-field advantage, Penn’s defense couldn’t muster up enough this time to stop Caldwell from scoring.
Penn 0, Caldwell 7.
After a great kickoff by Caldwell, it looked like the Cougars’ momentum would continue to steamroll Penn. In the blink of an eye, wide receiver — and kick returner — Brendan McCaffrey found a hole in Caldwell’s return defense and broke loose for an 80-yard run.
With that, Penn’s offense had its spark.
With big gains from wide receiver Jake Wang and McKever, Paolini was able to move the chains enough to get a first-and-goal. Rolling to his right, Paolini found tight end Ben Klaus for a touchdown in the end zone.
Finally, Penn had the energy they needed to surge and win the game.
“The o-line did a great job, the wide receivers did an incredible job, but it was the defense that really showed out today,” Paolini said. “They really kept us in the ball game until the offense started to figure it out.”
Linebacker Jake Inserra — who came up with a number of big hits on the day — credited the coaching staff in the defense’s success.
“Our coaches watch and break down a lot of film, picking out some of their tendencies, especially when they are running the ball,” Inserra said. “So we had a pretty good grip on what they were going to do before we came out here, and I think it showed.”
While controlling the line of scrimmage and stopping Caldwell’s run game certainly was an important factor in the defense only allowing 10 points, Inserra cited another key to their win.
“The penalty differential in football is a huge indicator of who’s going to win, so all week we were training discipline,” Inserra said. “To keep our discipline during the game, that was a huge determining factor in winning today.”
While the Quaker defense continued to hold its own — only allowing a field goal through the rest of the game — Penn’s offense kept on rolling as well. Over the next few drives, Rebstock and Paolini added a touchdown each while McKever exploded for three of his own.
“The key to winning was just perseverance,” Paolini said. “We knew we’d face adversity — they’re a very good football team, coming in at 4-0. But we’re happy that we fought through that adversity and got the win.”
Pushing through the slow start to the game speaks volumes to the character of the team: One that won’t fade away easily.
Sprint football gets its next test away against Alderson Broaddus on Friday at 6 p.m.