Don’t judge a book by its cover, or in the case of Penn sprint football, don’t judge a game by its final score.
Penn (3-3) fell to reigning Collegiate Sprint Football League champion Navy (5-0) 42-14 Friday night at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, but coach Jerry McConnell will tell you he's not too worried about what the final score says about his team.
“I think as three units, it was the best game that we played,” he said.
McConnell pointed towards experience as the major difference between the two teams. At multiple points in the game, Penn had 10 underclassmen on the field with only one senior.
“It’s not a reflection of how our kids played, and it shows the talent that we have coming up in the sophomore and freshman class,” McConnell said.
Penn’s offense got off to a rough start with senior quarterback Andrew Paolini throwing an early interception. Three plays later, the Midshipmen found the back of the end zone to go up 7-0. However, after the early turnover, the Quaker offense started to get going. On the next possession, a 13-play, 74-yard drive ended with freshman Charles Tauckus reeling in his first career reception on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Paolini to tie the game up.
In addition to the touchdown, Tauckus contributed nine tackles and forced a fumble on the defensive side of the ball. According to McConnell, after the Chestnut Hill game, they decided to start incorporating Tauckus into the offense, particularly in short-yardage situations. Tauckus, who played both linebacker and running back in high school, has been featured primarily on the defensive side of the ball, and coming into the game, was Penn’s leading tackler.
“Tauckus is an unbelievable player,” McConnell said. “He’s gonna be a great player for this program. He’s one of that freshman class that we think is really special.”
Despite Tauckus’ touchdown, the Midshipmen quickly regained the momentum, finding the end zone once again in a six-play, 68-yard drive that took just under three and a half minutes. Navy’s scoring didn’t end there, though.
What finally sank the ship for Penn was a Midshipmen touchdown right before halftime set up by another Paolini interception. Then, after Navy received the opening kickoff, the offense marched 65 yards down the field on 11 plays to go up 35-7.
After another Navy touchdown to make it 35 unanswered points, Penn finally found the end zone again at the end of the fourth quarter, on a 24-yard pass from Paolini to sophomore wide receiver Kyle Zeitlian. The game ended with the final score being 42-14 in the Midshipmen's favor.
“When I look at the Navy game, you lose the way you lose, but I had great comfort in knowing that better days are ahead for us because of our younger classes,” McConnell said.
Offensively, the coach praised receivers Jake Wang and Brandon Graves, both underclassmen. They finished with a combined 16 catches and 171 yards. Graves and Wang are both part of the young core that McConnell hopes will continue to make the program stronger in the years to come.
On the defensive side of the ball, despite surrendering 42 points to the Midshipmen, McConnell highlighted another underclassman, sophomore linebacker Jake Inserra. Inserra led the Quakers with 12 total tackles including two tackles for a loss.
“Inserra, he’s the guy on the defense,” McConnell said. “His leadership is invaluable. He’s been a great leader and mentor to our younger kids and they just keep getting better.”
With just one more game left on the schedule, the future is bright for Penn sprint football, according to McConnell.
“We knew coming into this year that we would have some challenges because of our experience, but at the end of the day when you’re playing all these young kids I look forward to next year because these kids will have the opportunity to have a season under their belt and feel comfortable in their roles,” he said.
Penn falls to 3-3 on the season and will face off against Mansfield on Friday at 7 p.m. at home for Senior Night.
“We're going to regroup and get ready to play Mansfield,” McConnell said. “It's our seniors' last game. Our preparation isn't going to be any different than it's been all year long. We just want to send the seniors out with a win.”