Turn Back the Clock: Bagnoli's final Ivy title
It’s no secret that things have not gone Penn football’s way this year, but for the man at the helm of the program — coach Al Bagnoli — this season has been the outlier, not the norm.
Over his career, Bagnoli has led the team to nine outright Ivy championships and became the winningest coach in program history.
In preparation for the Quakers’ season ending matchup with Cornell and — more importantly — Bagnoli’s final game on the Penn sidelines, let’s turn back the clock two years to another significant matchup with the Big Red.
On Nov. 17, 2012, the Red and Blue traveled to Ithaca, N.Y. with one thing on their minds: an Ivy championship.
At 5-1 in the league and a game up on second-place Harvard, Penn needed only a win to clinch its third outright Ivy title in four years — a dynasty in the eyes of many onlookers.
Matched up against a Cornell squad that sat at 2-4 in the league, the Red and Blue were clear favorites. But the Quakers were a man down.
Then-senior quarterback Billy Ragone was out with an injury, forcing senior Andrew Holland to make his first start in the final game of his career.
However, the Quakers had faced adversity all year. Over the course of the season, the Red and Blue never won by more than nine points, and a mid-season loss to Yale did not bode well for their title hopes.
They were able to fight through each time, and they entered the game against Cornell with the same attitude, full of confidence.
“I’ve been so blessed to be a part of this class and have the opportunity to win three championships,” Holland said. “It’s a special group.”
The Quakers came out slow, falling behind 13-7 early in the game, but it didn’t take long for them to gain control.
Led by the efficient play of Holland — who completed 18 of his 22 attempts for 255 yards on the game — and an explosive 55-yard third quarter touchdown run by then-senior running back Lyle March, Penn scored 21 unanswered points.
The Quakers took the 15-point lead into the fourth quarter, but they would not be able to coast to victory.
“It wouldn’t be us if we didn’t make it interesting,” senior defensive lineman Brandon Copeland said.
Cornell brought it within eight, and after converting 4th-and-10 and a Penn pick-six negated by a penalty, the Big Red were able to tie it up with 2:57 to go on a score and two-point conversion.
“They scared the living hell out of you,” Bagnoli said.
However, after getting good field position from a short Cornell squib kick, the Quakers were able to keep their cool.
“We were actually pretty calm in the huddle,” Holland said.
Holland overcame his inexperience and marched Penn down the field, leading to a three-yard score by then-sophomore running back Spencer Kulscar.
The defense was able to hold on and earn Bagnoli his ninth — and final — Ivy title.
“It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t perfect or pretty at all,” Copeland said, summing up Bagnoli’s brand of winning football. “We all stayed together.”