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Penn football sits for a group photo on Oct. 29, 1897.

Credit: DP Archives

The start of November is an eventful time for Penn Athletics. With fall sports wrapping up and winter sports beginning, there is no other time quite so exciting for the Quakers. With that in mind, let's take a look back at important events that occurred this week in Penn sports history:

Nov. 11, 1876: First intercollegiate football game in school history

This week in 1876 saw the Penn varsity football team play their first game against another college, losing to Princeton by six goals, in the first-ever match between the two teams. 

Princeton, the defending champions of college football, scored six goals and kicked off what would become a 28-game winning streak against the Quakers, who would be unable to defeat their rival from New Jersey until 1892. Penn played another two games that season, beating the Philadelphia All-Stars on Nov. 17 before losing to Princeton again on Nov. 25. After not playing in 1877, the Red and Blue were able to notch their first win against another college on Nov. 2, 1878, beating Swarthmore by nine goals and 16 touchdowns, nearly two years after the program’s inaugural game.

Nov. 10, 1984: Penn football defeats Harvard to clinch at least a share of the league title

When the Ivy League for football was formed in 1956, Penn was coming off a successful half-century run as one of the top college football programs in the country. After winning the fourth-ever league championship in 1959, Penn entered a decades-long run as one of the worst teams in the country. With just three third-place finishes and one second-place finish from 1960-1981, the football program at Penn was the laughing stock of the Ancient Eight. 

After bringing in new coach Jerry Berndt for the 1981 season, it seemed that Penn finally had some hope. Despite a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 1981 season, the Quakers began turning themselves around, winning a share of the first place crown each of the next two seasons. 

Hopes were high in 1984, and the Quakers responded accordingly, opening the season with a 55-24 thrashing of Dartmouth in New Hampshire and rolled through the rest of the season in a similar fashion. With just a single loss to Army, Penn came into a key matchup against Harvard on November 10th with an overall record of 6-1 and a perfect 5-0 league record, poised to clinch the league title with a win over its rival. This certainly brought back some bad memories for the Quakers, who had found themselves in a similar situation the previous year when they visited the Crimson sporting a perfect 5-0 league record with a chance to clinch the league title, but ultimately fell 28-0, ending the season in a tie with Harvard for a share of the league title, for the second year in a row. Additionally, the Quakers came into this match-winning just 2 of their previous 21 matchups with the Crimson. None of this mattered, as the Quakers steamrolled the Crimson by a score of 38-7 in front of 38,000 fans. The Quakers went into the half up 10-7, but once Steve Ortman returned the second-half kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, the Quakers never looked back, putting up another 21 unanswered points.

“In 1982, we shared the Ivy title with Dartmouth and Harvard," defensive back Tim Chambers, who was a senior during the 1984 season and winner of the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as the league's MVP that season, said. "In 1983, we shared with Harvard. So it was only fitting that we would play Harvard for the outright championship in 1984. It was the perfect ending to our four-year commitment to turn the program around and in many ways re-established a standard of football excellence that continues today."

Penn won its final game of the season a week later, defeating Cornell 24-0 to finish the undefeated season and win their first outright championship since 1959.

Nov. 11, 1988: Women’s field hockey wins their first-ever NCAA championship game

The 1988 field hockey season saw the Quakers go 14-3-1 overall and win the Ivy League with a 5-1 record. Led by six players that earned first-team all-Ivy honors, including Ivy League Player of the Year Nicky Hitchens, the Quakers finished with a ranking of fourth in the country. This was good enough to earn a berth in the NCAA championship and a bye to the second round. This was their third appearance in six years, with both of the previous appearances ending in losses: the first to Temple in 1983 and then to Rutgers in 1986. 

The 1988 tournament held extra significance for the Quakers, as the final two rounds were held at Franklin Field. In order to reach the semi-finals, Penn first had to face rival Penn State. In addition to the two teams being bitter rivals that faced off every year, the Nittany Lions and Quakers recruited from the same area, making this matchup even more intense. The two teams had already faced off that season, with the Quakers handing the Nittany Lions a 1-0 loss at Franklin Field a month before the tournament matchup.

On Nov. 11th, 1988, Penn State rolled into Franklin Field looking to avenge their loss from earlier in the season, fresh off a 3-1 first-round win against Delaware. The Quakers quickly fell behind 1-0 and the score remained there until Hitchens scored with just 8:15 remaining in regulation. The score remained tied at the end of regulation, forcing it into overtime.

After two overtimes, the score remained deadlocked, with neither team able to find the back of the net. Finally, with 2:31 remaining in the third overtime, Christy Traenkle scored off a rebound to net Penn the win, their first-ever in tournament play. The Quakers moved on to play Old Dominion in the final four, losing 4-0 to the eventual champion. Despite the disappointing end to the season, the Quakers' big win stands as one of the most important moments in Penn field hockey history.

Nov. 6, 1999: Ortman sets a record

Coming off a loss to Army the previous week, sprint football needed a win against Navy on Nov. 6, 1999 to keep their championship hopes alive and have a chance at winning their second straight league title. It definitely wouldn’t be easy, as undefeated Navy had the top defense in the league, allowing only 118 yards per game. 

Penn was led by senior running back Tim Ortman, one of the greatest players in school and league history. The previous year’s MVP had rushed for 1108 yards in 1998, a school record. He was having another season for the ages coming into the game against Navy, hoping to win at least a share of the championship for the third time in four years. This was also the final home game of his storied career. With all these factors on Ortman’s mind, he led the Quakers into this critical matchup against the Midshipmen.

“It was my last home game and as my number of games dwindled in college, I used to think about it a lot because I knew I would never play football again after college was over,” he said.

Ortman owned Navy: in their matchup the previous season, Ortman carried the ball 49 times for a then-school record of 262 yards. Nobody could imagine that he would be able to top that – yet top that he did. Ortman carried the ball 47 times and scored four touchdowns on his way to rushing for 363 yards, a league record that has yet to be broken, while leading the Quakers to a 37-14 win. Ortman finished the season topping his own single-season record with 1218 rushing yards on his way to another league MVP.

“I knew I needed a big game, and I knew that Coach would be handing me the ball quite a bit, so I was ready,” said Ortman. “I knew Coach Wags was going to call my number and I didn’t want to let him down, nor my team.”