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In a heartbreaking three-point defeat at the hands of Navy last
weekend, the Penn sprint football team lost all hope for a share of
the Collegiate Sprint Football League championship. Now, with
one game remaining in the season, the Quakers are playing for
one thing -- pride.
The senior class of the Penn sprint football team has never lost to
The Penn sprint football team was on an eleven-game winning
streak. But the clock struck midnight two Friday nights ago, as the
Quakers lost to Army. It was their first defeat in nearly two
Three words on the back of a black Army T-shirt say it all.
Last year he captained the Penn sprint football team. Last year he
won the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award. Last year he
was named first-team All-CSFL.
Last season they were undefeated, claiming the Collegiate Sprint Football
Conference title. For the first time ever, they defeated both Army and Navy in the
Golf. It's a test of resolve between man and the course. It's an
No one quite knew what to expect last weekend when the Penn
men's golf team traveled to Annapolis, Md., to compete in the Navy
It might not have been the most interesting game to watch, but the result of Friday's sprint football contest between Penn and Princeton at Franklin Field made one fact clear.
This is the most successful team in the history of Quakers sprint football.
No one was holding their breath. But when the clock ran out on Penn's 21-0 romp over the Tigers, the Red and Blue had every right to call themselves undefeated champions of the Collegiate Sprint Football League.
Twice since the league's birth in 1934 Penn has won championships, one in 1996 and the other in 1998. But Penn's never won it outright -- until now.
"This is the way to go, going out in style 6-0," Penn senior tailback Chris Wright said. "I can't believe it."
Now that it's happened, the Quakers have no choice but to believe it.
"This is an accumulation of a lot of guys, not just the guys on the field tonight," Penn coach Bill Wagner said. "The guys who played before them set the ground work. The alumni are the bloodline, and the coaching staff, all of them, have been the heart and soul of this program."
At the start of the game Friday evening, the Quakers offense came out flat, failing to score in the first quarter.
"Everybody was trying to do too much and win the game all by themselves," Wagner said. "That's not how we win. We've been winning games all season as a team."
Although the offense got off to a rocky start, the defense did not. From the start, Penn's defense squashed any of Princeton's hopes for a touchdown.
Soon enough, the Penn offense picked up.
After Penn freshman quarterback Jim Donapel connected with senior Scott Moore on a diving catch to give the Quakers a first down at the 41-yard line early in the second quarter, Robert Reeves got the call. Off a reverse, Reeves scampered down the sideline, leaving a trail of Princeton players behind him for a 60-yard touchdown run.
Freshman kicker Chris Caputo booted the point after to give Penn a 7-0 advantage.
With senior captain John Clarke, senior defensive end Kevin Manning, sophomore line backer Steve Willard and senior defensive back Brad Gusich leading the way, the Red and Blue defense forced Princeton to punt on its next three drives to set up Penn's offense on the 50-yard line with three minutes left in the half.
With a 44-yard Donapel-Moore connection, Penn found itself at the Princeton six-yard line.
Sophomore running back Mark Gannon, who ran for a total of 99 yards on 19 carries Friday night, bullied his way through Princeton's defense for the six-yard run touchdown, and the Quakers went into halftime up 13-0.
After an uneventful third quarter, Gannon and Wright combined for two separate runs to give Penn a first-and-nine at the nine-yard line with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
Then the Quakers put on one last show.
Donapel handed the ball off to Wright, who rolled right and reversed it to Reeves. Reeves then went wide left and maneuvered his way down the sideline, leaving a trail of three dumfounded Tigers lying on the ground wondering what had just blown past them.
But there was still one last potential Princeton tackler standing, ready to stop Reeves at all cost. That's when Moore showed up.
Moore leveled the Tigers' last resort, sending shock waves through the stadium and Reeves to the end zone. He finished the night with 76 yards rushing and two touchdowns on three carries.
Penn senior Joe Smith put the icing on the cake with a two-point conversion, muscling his way across the goal line to give Penn a 21-0 triumph and an exclamation mark for an unforgettable season.
The Penn sprint football team's seniors are a motley crew. Of this band of 15 fourth-years, some can hit, others can throw. Some can just plain run. There are quiet leaders and jokesters, seasoned veterans and newcomers.
But they all share one goal. They all want to wrap up an undefeated season -- the first one in Penn history -- and sole possession of the Collegiate Sprint Football League championship.
It doesn't matter if they have endured the last three years, or just the last three games, every player in this unique crowd has the same fire in his eyes. It is clear that this group is not about to let Princeton stand in the way of its dreams of perfection when the Tigers visit tonight.
In 1996, Penn's 5-1 record was its best in its 60-plus year existence, a season where the Quakers tied for the league championship with Army and Navy.
This feat was not intimidating to the freshmen who walked into Penn coach Bill Wagner's office the next year. They wanted to step in immediately, not to sit on the bench for two years and wait their turn.
"We took it as our team when we came," said senior linebacker Mike Viney, a four-year starter. "It's been our team for four years."
Viney is just one of nine four-year starters. Since 1997, they have known what they want -- an undefeated season. But it wasn't their turn in 1997.
One year later, they proved their dominance, their presence on the field. And they came home with a title, but only a share of the title after losing to the Cadets.
"It was bittersweet. It wasn't just us who won," senior captain Robert Reeves said. "We appreciated it, but at the same time it didn't diminish our personal want to win a championship outright."
In 1999 they tried again to reach their goal. They failed. By eight points they failed. Army squeaked out a 17-9 victory and won the title with an undefeated record.
"Their junior year, they were 5-1. Our only loss was to Army," Wagner said. "We should have won that game. We had the ball at the 12-yard line when the game ended."
Again, it just wasn't their turn.
This year, they haven't been distracted by their ultimate goal. The Quakers have played each game as if it was the title game.
After shutting out Cornell and Princeton in the first two games of the season, Penn hit the road to take on Navy in the first match of the league season.
There was no question about it -- Penn had to win. And they did, but at a high cost. There was a two-men-deep casualty list, both four-year starters, at the end of the overtime battle. Quarterback John Kernan broke his jaw, and one of the best defensive back hitters on the team, Dan "Rock" Rowcotsky tore his ACL.
Cornell came next. The circumstances were certainly tough, with freshman Jim Donapel starting at quarterback for a Penn team beat up by the rough one-point overtime victory the game before.
The Quakers were tired and missing two leaders, but that didn't stop them. The 15 seniors knew every game was theirs to be had. Every game was in their grasp. This year, it was their turn.
The team rallied around the rookie QB and destroyed the Big Red. Army, also undefeated at the time, was next on the hit list. It was a position every true athlete dreams of -- two undefeated teams playing for at least a share of the title. It doesn't get much better than that. Unless, of course, you win.
And win they did.
With five games down, there is only one contest left for Penn. The Tigers can make plenty of friends at West Point by staying true to their nickname and ripping the Quakers apart. Or they can stay at the bottom rung. And Penn can take home the gold.
The Quakers hope that they can dictate the action and make the latter outcome the true one.
"We have to continue with the same approach -- not to take Princeton lightly, but to go out there and put it to them right from the beginning," Wagner said.
Under the bright lights of Franklin Field with rain slowly starting to pick up speed, an army of football players standing 10 men across and five men deep last night began their last practice of the season.
Slowly and softly, the synchronized clapping began. It began to get louder and quicker. It was the sound of athletes ready to win.
For three years, this moment -- like the clapping -- has been building to a climax for a motley crew of 15 seniors.
Tonight it's their turn, one last time.
Years from now, if two Penn players who were at Franklin Field on Friday night happen to run into each other, they will almost certainly pause after the expected greetings of two old college teammates.
They'll pause, and their minds will reach back to a single night of glory, to a night of unforgettable football.
Then they'll start talking about the night when Penn beat Army for the third time in sprint football history, 20-16, a night when the Quakers clinched at least a share of the Collegiate Sprint Football League Championship.
"I have to say this is probably the best feeling after any athletic event ever," Penn junior defensive back Matt Ragsdale said.
With the band playing and the cheerleaders kicking the 700-plus rowdy fans -- some painted red and blue and wearing "Beat Army" shirts -- into high gear before kickoff, it was impossible to miss the importance of the game. Two undefeated teams were about to do battle in the second-to-last game of the season.
It was indeed a battle of the best.
"We just wanted everyone to know that we are the better team," Penn senior captain Robert Reeves said.
The Quakers struck quickly. They forced Army to punt shortly after the opening kickoff, then marched 55 yards on a 10-play drive that ended with a connection from freshman quarterback Jim Donapel to sophomore wide receiver Jeff Bagnoli that put the Quakers up 6-0 in the first period.
"The whole team played as one unit," Penn sophomore linebacker Steve Willard said. "Our offense picked up our defense, and our defense picked up our offense."
Army, not to be outdone, answered back in the second quarter when Cadets senior Mike Costano ran for a six-yard touchdown. Paul Stelzer's extra point gave Army a 7-6 advantage.
Pumped by the lead, the Cadets defense stormed onto the field to force senior Scott Moore to punt. But Moore turned the tide of emotion when he kicked a 37-yard punt, pinning Army at the one-yard line.
Army's ensuing drive stalled, and the Black Knights were forced to punt. Penn sophomore Tim Murphy fielded the kick and then handed the ball to Bagnoli, who ran to Army's 24-yard line.
Donapel then completed a pass to Moore, who ran for 12 yards to give the Quakers another first down at the Army 12-yard line. Sophomore standout Mark Gannon, who led Penn with 107 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns, proceeded to punch the ball into the end zone with a 12-yard scamper that put Penn up, 12-7.
With a mere five-point lead, Penn decided to go for the two-point conversion. The Quakers decided to pass, and Donapel tossed a ball into the back of the end zone, which Moore managed to catch with an NBA-caliber leap. Penn was up 14-7.
Army, which beat Penn for the Red and Blue's only loss of last season, was not ready to let the Quakers exact sweet revenge, however.
Storming onto the field after a brief timeout, senior Cadets quarterback Jon Hall connected with junior Nate Thompson for a 67-yard touchdown. Failing to convert the extra point, Penn kept a one point lead, 14-13.
Just as determined as its offense, Army's defense stopped Penn's next drive.
With 51 seconds remaining, Army found itself in an ideal position to take the lead -- second-and-seven at the 14-yard line. But Penn senior defensive lineman Kevin Manning had another plan in mind. He intercepted a Hall pass and prevented the Cadets from taking the lead.
The play sent an electrifying shock throughout the entire stadium as Quakers and Cadets left the field at halftime.
The back-and-forth play of two stubborn teams marked the scoreless third quarter. But 30 seconds into the fourth, Army broke the spell when Stelzer's 39-yard field goal gave the Black Knights a 16-14 lead. Penn, for what seemed like an eternity, could not answer back.
"The second to last series, I was on the sidelines about to cry. I thought we had lost it," senior linebacker Mike Viney said. "Then when we were winning, I had tears in my eyes from winning. So it was an emotional high and low in about five minutes."
Viney's near tears of sadness turned to tears of joy as Penn resumed playing like a championship team. After Penn's defense forced an Army punt, the offense took charge.
Moore once again came up big.
On fourth-and-three at the Penn 43-yard line, Penn coach Bill Wagner decided to gamble and go for it. Donapel threw a pass to Moore well downfield, who dove through double coverage and hauled in a pass to keep the Red and Blue alive.
With adrenaline pumping, Gannon continued the surge when he weaved through Army's defense for a 15-yard run to give Penn another first down.
With the stadium roaring, the offense continued to pound the ball down the field until Gannon's final five-yard dash plowed over Army's Randy Boland to give the Quakers a 20-16 lead with just under three minutes to go.
The finale was left to the Penn defense. On third-and-13, Manning dove to try to sack Hall, but the wily quarterback got a pass off to try for the winning touchdown.
With 33 seconds left, senior Brad Gusich stepped in front of the Army receiver and pulled down an unbelievable interception at the 16-yard line.
After the Penn victory, with celebratory water streaming down his face, Wagner stood proud as his 31st sprint team went down in the books as one of the greatest squads in Penn's history -- the only Penn team to beat two academies. To complete an undefeated season -- the first in Penn history -- the Quakers will have to beat Princeton this Friday.
"You don't want any other game than that when it's for a championship," Army quarterback Jon Hall said. "Penn definitely played a great game. Hats off to them."
Penn sprint football is the only team on campus which can claim bragging rights to an undefeated season thus far. Unfortunately for the Quakers, where this claim matters the most -- Collegiate Sprint Football League -- they are not alone.
Accompanying the Red and Blue at the top of the ranks is Army, a team well seasoned in the art of winning after clinching its 29th CSFL title last year with a 4-0 undefeated record in the league. If there was ever a time or a team to break the Black Knights' current winning streak, tomorrow night at 7:30 would be the time, and Penn would be the team.
With home turf advantage, the Quakers will attempt to better their 4-0 run. In three of those games, the Penn defense soundly kept the opposing offense to zero points.
But tomorrow, records and accolades mean nothing. Both teams are coming in with perfect records. But one team will leave with a fatal blow to a flawless run at the title, while the other team will be basking in the glory of keeping their winning streak.
And that winner will also come away with a share of the CSFL title.
Last year, Army dealt Penn the only chink in its armor. In the third game of the 1999 season, the Quakers fell to the Cadets, 17-9 -- the one loss that kept the Quakers from their first perfect record in the history of Penn sprint football.
But this is a new year, and the Red and Blue, although aware of past antagonisms and the need for sweet revenge, are focusing on the future.
"There is a lot of excitement for this game," Penn sophomore standout Jeff Bagnoli said. "We've been practicing well; we're ready to go play the game. We have to have an 'A' game, and hopefully we'll come out on top."
Both teams have seen what the league has to offer and proven their dominance. There is only one question remaining: Which team will be the runner-up and which team will wear the ring?
Unless Army loses to Navy and Penn loses to Princeton in their final games of the season -- in two matchups that have already gone the Quakers' and the Cadets' way once this season -- tonight's game will determine the answer to that question.
But Penn knows that it can't get ahead of itself.
Army coach Gene McIntyre tends to run the option with talented junior quarterback Jon Hall under center. In Army's 28-9 victory over Cornell two weeks ago, Hall ran for a season high of 132 yards, his third straight 100-yard performance.
"[Hall] likes to run the ball. Nobody can run the ball like this kid can," Bagnoli said.
In addition to Hall, Army has eight returning players who were selected for first team CSFL honors last season.
Instead of dreading the stiff competition, however, the Quaker's past few performances have bred a contagious sense of confidence throughout the Penn squad, especially on the defensive end.
"We have faith in our defense," sophomore defensive lineman Mike Doyle said. "The defense that we run is pretty solid against both the option and the pass."
In fact, two Penn defenders have earned CSFL Defensive Player of the Week honors this season. Senior defensive end Kevin Manning earned the honor last week for recording seven tackles in the Quakers 23-0 shutout of Cornell, while senior linebacker Mike Viney tallied six tackles in Penn's 29-0 romp over Princeton in mid-October.
In addition to a solid defense, Penn has reason to boast of its offense as well. Against Navy, senior running back Scott Moore surpassed Clinton Schmidt for all-time Penn career receiving record.
Along with Moore, freshman quarterback Jim Donapel is an offensive threat for the Quakers. Donapel is heading into his second start of the season after taking over for injured signal-caller John Kernan.
Donapel has two seasoned weapons at his side in Bagnoli and senior captain Robert Reeves.
The Quakers will need all the weapons they can muster -- including the aid of fans at Franklin Field -- to beat Army and take a giant step toward a CSFL title.
Nothing has been able to stand in the way of the Penn Sprint Football team's journey to the top of the Collegiate Sprint Football League.
Not even the periodic torrential downpours that showered Cornell's Schoellkopf Field this past Friday night put a damper on charging Penn, as the Quakers (4-0, 2-0 CSFL) soundly defeated the Big Red (1-2, 0-1), 23-0.
For the fourth consecutive game, the Quakers walked away from the gridiron victorious.
In fact, for three of those four games the Red and Blue have held their opponents scoreless.
The Red and Blue's impressive run puts them neck and neck with Army, the only other undefeated team, for the league lead. Penn shared the title with the Cadets two years ago, but Army edged the Quakers for last year's crown.
This Friday, the cream of the CSFL crop, the Quakers and the Cadets, will duke it out at Franklin Field for the league lead, and most likely the title.
Penn faces long historical odds--the Red and Blue has won just two out of 43 games against Army.
But coming into this season, Penn had beaten Navy just six times out of 55. The Quakers beat the Midshipmen in overtime last week.
To stop Army, the Quakers must take control of the game from the get-go, like in Friday's decisive victory.
Penn freshman quarterback Jim Donapel, making his first start of the season at Cornell, did not take long to prove his competence.
He opened the scoring on a draw on third and 13 from the 50-yard line with 3:05 remaining in the first quarter to give the Red and Blue a 7-0 lead going into the second quarter.
Donapel was filling in for senior John Kernan, who broke his jaw a week ago at Navy.
Kicker Chris Caputo kept the scoring momentum alive less then a minute into the second half with a 30-yard field goal.
Donapel, only three minutes later, connected with senior receiver Scott Moore for a two-yard touchdown pass to put the Red and Blue up 17-0 at the half.
Moore, the CSFL Player of the Week last week, broke Clinton Schmidt's school record for career receiving yardage of 760, set in 1996.
"We dominated the game," Penn coach Bill Wagner said. "We had 80 offensive plays to Cornell's 46 plays. Plus, we had the ball for 39 minutes to their 23."
It was not just the Quakers' offense that proved unstoppable. Junior defenseman Matt Ragsdale had an exceptional game. Most notably, he stopped Cornell junior defensive back Angelo Palmieri when he recovered a fumbled punt on Penn's 43-yard line. This proved to be the Big Red's best attempt to score for the entire evening.
In addition to Ragsdale, Penn senior Kevin Manning notched a total of seven tackles, which increased his season total by more than half. Overall, the entire defense gave a stellar performance, something not out of the ordinary for the 2000 Red and Blue squad.
It's late Wednesday night and the lights are fading on Franklin field as the wind starts to kick up. It's a scant two days until the raging Penn sprint football team will face a scrappy Cornell team, and the Quakers have just wrapped up one of their worst practices of the week.
In a week marked by the loss of starting quarterback and captain John Kernan and defensive standout Dan Rowcotsky due to a jaw and knee injury, respectively, a practice this bad is about the last thing coach Bill Wagner needs.
However, instead of giving his tired team a stern lecture or extra sprints, he chose to wrap up practice with a short huddle talk from senior captain Brad "Yoda" Gusich.
In true Jedi fashion, his sage words to the team were, "Well, if you're gonna go out, it's better to go out on Wednesday than Thursday, because Thursday is the night before our Friday game and you got to go to bed early."
While it wasn't a traditional pep talk, it was all this team needed to hear to leave practice in higher spirits.
With a game looming 48 hours away, it might be hard to understand how the Quakers' can be emotionally up. But the Quakers are riding high after a hard fought, crucial victory against Navy. For the third year in a row, the Quakers defeated the perennially powerful Midshipmen.
But the victory came at a steep cost.
For tonight's game, the Red and Blue are going to have find a way to fill in for key leaders on both offense and defense. Kernan, the starting quarterback, and Rowcotsky, the marquee defender, leave big boots to fill.
Without those stars, it won't be as easy to bring home a win like the last Penn-Cornell matchup where the Quakers, in their opening game of the season, defeated the Big Red, 20-0.
In addition to injuries, Penn's defense, for the second week in a row, will not have senior defender Phil Meng because he failed to make the 165-pound weigh-in on Wednesday night.
With those three key losses, the best Penn can do is rally behind freshman quarterback Jim Donapel, who stepped in for Kernan in the fourth quarter of the Navy game, shrugging off any signs of rookie anxieties and brought the team to an overtime victory.
Tonight will prove another test of Donapel's steady arm.
Cornell, due to a weak offense, has no chance of making a run at the title this year, with two league losses already, to Navy and last week to Army.
"Their coach's strategy is to put all the good athletes on defense," Penn sophomore running back Mark Gannon said. "Even though they can keep good offenses to low numbers, they're not going to score, so they're not going to win."
Despite Gannon's claim, that defense can get in the way of Penn's title dream.
This, in addition to Cornell's home field advantage, could prove dangerous for the Red and Blue. And despite being the more skilled team, the Quakers cannot take the Big Red lightly.
"Can we beat this team? Yes. Should we beat this team? Yes. There are no if's, and's or but's about it," Wagner said. "The bottom line is that we have to go beat them."
This is it. It is their turn. With two weeks of consecutive practice they are ready to play. Even more than that, they are ready to win.
After three seasons of not quite there finishes, the seniors of the Penn sprint football team know that tonight is their turn to lay the foundations for a championship run. At 7:30 p.m. on Rip Miller Field in Annapolis, Md., Penn's Sprint Football team takes on Navy (2-1, 1-0 Collegiate Sprint Football League) -- the Quakers' first true test in a season thus-far filled with massacres of their opponents. This year the Red and Blue have vowed not to let the glory of the crown pass them by, their number is up and they are ready.
With three shutouts under their belts, including their Alumni game, the Quakers will not be taken lightly. Yet, at the same time they are not taking any of their opponents lightly. Penn wants to be undefeated; they want to win the title outright.
"The two big teams are Navy and Army, not that we're not respecting Cornell and Princeton. But in order to win the Championship we're going to have to get through Navy," junior Mark (last name) said. In 1996 Penn, Army and Navy - the three top teams in the league - shared the title, in 1997 Navy won the title, in 1998 Army and Penn shared the glory and in 1999 Army took home the ring. The bittersweet memory of sharing the title in 1998 and just missing it last year is still fresh in the minds of Penn's veteran squad.
"This is our year to win this thing," Penn coach Bill Wagner said. "We have a veteran team that is very encouraging to us, particularly on our defensive end of the field. I also think our offense is more well rounded then it was a year ago."
Last year running back Tim Ortman, in true football deity style, rushed for 363 yards on 47 carries and scored four times in the 37-14 victory against Navy. On face value this appears a considerable blow to the Quaker's offense, however this was the offensive line's only loss. The returning line boasts a seasoned Quarterback in senior John Kernan, and an offensive line that could have jobs as butchers for all the opposition they have sliced and diced. This much sweetness should be sold at the candy store. On the same token, however the Midshipmen have their own secret weapon. Senior wide receiver Brian Wilson, besides sharing the same name as the Beach Boy's songwriter, also has the noted distinction of leading Navy with 34 catches for 474 yards and 5 touchdowns last season. Despite Wilson's outstanding receiving game, the Midshipmen, under the novice helm of coach Major Austin Renforth, in response to their lack of depth at quarterback after losing 2-year starter, Drew McGinly, has decided to focus on his team's running game.
A running game is Navy's best hope to control Penn's rock solid offense and keep the tempo of the game under its control. Although looking to capitalize on a running game, if forced to use their passing game, the Quakers defense is confident in their ability to stop either of Navy's game plans.
"We're ready for them both ways. Whatever they throw at us we're ready for it," senior defensiveback John Clarke said.
Confident in their abilities, after three consecutive shutouts, Penn's defense is ready for whatever Navy's eleven returning starters and slew of fresh faces, after losing 28 letterwinners may spring on them. But, the Quakers cannot take their opponent lightly. In the 18th-Annual Anthracite Bowl held in St. Clair, PA on October 7, Navy broke Army's two game shutout streak. A shutout streak nevertheless is not what Penn is game shutout streak. A shutout streak nevertheless is not what Penn is looking for.
"It doesn't matter if they score," Wagner said. "The first concern is to win the football game. We would love to see a shutout, if we shut them out we win. But the pressure is not on the defense to have a shutout, the pressure is on the team to win the game."
PRINCETON, N.J. -- Without a John Elway calling the signals, the Princeton sprint football team had little to no hope of coming back from its 22-0 halftime deficit at Friday night's game against Penn.
The Quakers (2-0), on the other hand, were supremely confident in the locker room at the break. They had no doubt that a second victory was imminent and that their defense would be able to dominate the Tigers (0-2).
When the Quakers dealt Cornell a 20-0 shutout in their season opener two weeks ago, the offensive heat was not turned on until the fourth quarter. This past Friday night, however, that was not the case.
Penn put the game away in the first 30 minutes.
After two weeks of putting on practice jerseys and scrimmaging each other, Penn's sprint team was ready to play for real. Only seven minutes, five seconds into the contest at Weaver Stadium, the Quakers put the first points on the board on a two-yard touchdown scamper by sophomore Mark Gannon and a two-point conversion run by sophomore Jeff Bagnoli.
The Quakers' bottled-up anticipation for a real battle was let loose, and they led 8-0.
"Last week [against Cornell] we came out with a lot of emotion and we were fired up. But this week the big plays in the first half game killed us," said Princeton sophomore Christian Gomez, who ran for 100 yards. "We came out kind of flat."
Penn's offense was on. After three quarters of being out of sync against Cornell, the Red and Blue was more than ready to execute their game plan of a balanced running and passing game.
Only four seconds into the second quarter, Penn senior running back Chris Wright had the second two-yard touchdown for the evening, with kicker Chris Caputo putting his first of three extra points on the board for a 15 point lead. About eight minutes following Wright's touchdown, senior quarterback John Kernan connected with senior wide receiver Robert Reeves for a five- yard touchdown to put the Quakers up 22-0.
"Our offense came out and scored a lot of points early which took a lot of pressure off the defense, unlike the last game [against Cornell]," senior defender Mike Viney said.
Besides taking a lot of pressure off the defense, the early lead enabled the coaches to substitute often in the second half.
"[Because of] the nice 22-0 lead at the half, we were able to play all the kids," Penn coach Bill Wagner said.
Before the second string came off the bench for an impressive performance, Penn's starters stepped it up to put on a show for the 300 fans bundled up on the stadium seats for the first chilly night of the football season.
According to Reeves, the two weeks of pure practice gave the Red and Blue more than enough time to really take a look at Princeton's defense and exploit their weaknesses.
"We just took advantage of what they were doing," Reeves said. "Bottom line, guys were blocking and taking care of their responsibilities.
Kernan was 12-of-18 through the air for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Gannon, who was named Collegiate Sprint Football League Player of the Week after the Cornell game, found the end zone once and rushed for 59 yards on 10 carries.
On defense, seniors Dan Rowcotsky, Viney and junior Matt Ragsdale each totaled six tackles for the corps that shut out the boys from Old Nassau.
In two weeks, the Quakers will face their toughest test thus far at Navy. Time will tell if another fortnight of practices will allow the Penn coaches to prepare their team for a third shutout.
Three quarters into Friday night's Penn sprint football season opener against Cornell, the scoreboard failed to create an overwhelming sense of comfort for the Quakers.
The Red and Blue's 7-0 advantage was definitely not an intimidating lead, yet it was the zero on the visitors' side of the scoreboard that told the real story -- a story of defensive domination that led the Quakers to an eventual 20-0 victory.
Forcing the Big Red to a virtually unheard-of negative 21 yards on the ground, 22 individual Quakers recorded tackles, including seven sacks.
At the heart of this defensive display of sheer superiority was senior linebacker John Clarke.
The co-captain tallied nine tackles -- including one sack -- and hauled in one interception in the fourth quarter, which set up sophomore running back Mark Gannon's 5-yard touchdown run. Freshman kicker Chris Caputo added the extra point to give the Quakers a 14-0 advantage.
"We dominated completely," Penn junior defensive back Diego Morales said. "Our secondary is amazing. I don't think anyone is going to complete a pass over 20 yards on us."
Morales' fourth quarter interception set up senior fullback Joe Smith's 13-yard touchdown run to put the final six points on Franklin Field's scoreboard. It was Morales' and Clarke's fourth quarter interceptions that spurred a late offensive scoring surge.
"It's going to take the offense more time to click," said Brad Busich, one of Penn's four returning defensive backs.
"It's a lot easier to play defense," Clarke said. "The offense is going to take a few weeks to get in sync."
The Red and Blue had plenty of opportunities to score, but their passing game just didn't click. Senior quarterback John Kernan had some good looks to seniors Robert Reeves, Scott Moore and sprint rookie sophomore Tim Murphy, formerly a member of Al Bagnoli's squad. But the Quakers' timing was off.
"We just got to put together some consistency on the offense," Penn coach Bill Wagner said.
That consistency was hindered by the Quakers' three interceptions, as well as 12 penalties that set the Red and Blue back 148 yards.
But sophomore sensation Gannon made up for the offense's forgone yardage. The running back rushed for two touchdowns and had 32 carries for a 106-yard performance overall.
In addition to his fourth quarter touchdown, Gannon opened the scoring with a three-yard touchdown run with 17 seconds remaining on the clock in the first quarter.
Gannon was not alone in sparking the Quakers' 20-0 victory. Besides his rushing performance, Smith played very well. Although it was his first time playing for the Red and Blue, the senior had an exceptional performance with 10 carries for 75 yards and the final touchdown of the evening.
"Our offense isn't as good as their offense," Cornell coach Terry Cullen said of the Penn attack that registered 21 first downs to the Big Red's 10. "[Penn's] offensive line is all kids who played last year. They're a good team."
The Big Red's defense was the heart of their team. Two linebackers returned from last year -- senior captain Jon Krautmann and senior Pat Arangio. In addition, Cornell's strong safety junior Angelo Palmieri and captain defensive back standout Imad Baggar pulled more than their fair share of the weight on Friday.
But after three quarters of intense hitting, the Quakers eventually wore Cornell's defense down.
"Our defense was on the field for a real long time, and between fatigue and just being out there for a while we had a lot of first downs," Cornell sophomore linebacker Mike Rutenberg said.
There is an athlete who has started every game in his Penn career, who has made All-League honors twice and who is close to breaking a school record. And he's all but unknown.
He is sprint football quarterback John Kernan.
"There is really no glory in [sprint football]," Penn captain Robert Reeves said. "You walk around campus, people don't see Kernan on the sidewalk saying OOh My God I heard you threw 400 yards passing,' even though it's a great thing.
"We play for the love of the game."
The soft-spoken, All-Conference South Jersey kid from Moorestown thought his football career was over after his high school team's trip to the State finals. But he never could quite come to terms with the thought of not playing.
He thought of trying to walk on with Al Bagnoli's team, but realized that even if he made it, he'd get as much playing time as he would if he didn't try out -- zero.
After accepting the fact that his career was over, Kernan was pleasantly surprised to learn of the existence of a sport then called lightweight football.
Deciding to simply give it a try, the rookie earned the starting job that was up for grabs after the team lost All-League quarterback Matt Veneri to graduation.
Although the Quakers had lost five other seniors, they were hungry to win the Eastern Lightweight Football League title, hands down. Despite the fact that the 1996 team had the best season it had had in years, the Quakers only shared the ELFL title.
With two All-ELFL honorees, Tim Ortman and Greg Grabone, back for the offense and a quartet of defensive backs returning as well, the 1997 squad was ready to win the title outright. But the high expectations for Kernan's freshman team were not met. Penn fell to 3-3 overall (2-2 ELFL).
Despite a disappointing year for the team in his first season, the year of experience generated huge payoffs for Kernan in the 1998 season.
In addition to basking in the glory of winning the title of the newly ordained Collegiate Sprint Football League and posting the best record in the history of Penn's program, 5-1 overall (3-1 CSFL), Kernan earned his own personal accolades.
The sophomore was named to first team All-CSFL and was the league's top passer. He completed 28 of 65 attempts for 451 yards and had six touchdown passes, tying for first in the league. Needless to say, the traditional sophomore slump didn't hit Kernan.
Despite the fact that he led the Quakers in efficiency and once again tied for the highest number of touchdowns, six, in the league, Kernan earned second, not first-team honors in the following 1999 season.
With one season left, the senior captain is 519 yards behind Tommy Frankel's and Bob O'Brien's career records in passing.
"Statistically he's got some real good, strong numbers," Penn coach Bill Wagner said. "He's in the position to break some records here."
But individual honors and records are not the driving forces behind Kernan's will to win.
"To be 7-0 is the No. 1 thing," Kernan said. "As long as we finish 7-0, I'll end up breaking the passing record and one of these guys [referring to Reeves and senior Scott Moore] will end up breaking the receiving record."
His goal is no lofty one. Penn's offense is returning all but one of its starters -- but the one loss, Ortman, is enormous.
"[Ortman] was the best player we ever had," Wagner said.
Wagner believes that in order to reach the heights of an undefeated season, his team is going to have to "throw the ball more than we did in the past."
Kernan is the player who must delegate those changes.
"John needs to do what I think he is ready to do, and that is take charge of the offense, be able to look through the line of scrimmage, make audible calls, go from a pass to a run from a run to a pass," Wagner explained.
Kernan, quiet by nature, lets his actions speak louder than his voice. Even though Wagner is expecting his starting quarterback to be more vocal, Kernan's teammates have faith in his ability to lead their team back to the top.
"John is a great leader," Moore said. "He takes charge of the offense and pulls everyone together for us."
In a battle for city bragging rights in intramural flag football on Sunday night at Villanova's Goodreau Field, the outcome came down to the final seconds. Ultimately, however, Penn fell one point short of the championship, losing 21-20 to Temple. This was the thirteenth annual championship tournament of the Philadelphia CITY 6 Extramural Classic. In 1986, two representatives from Temple and St. Joseph's founded the country's only association of college recreation departments that offers intramural teams an opportunity to compete with each other for city championships. The association sponsors men, women and co-ed teams in flag football, volleyball, basketball and softball. The six schools involved are the Big 5 schools plus Drexel. After Penn defeated St. Joseph's and Temple beat Villanova in the semifinals, Sunday's battle for the best came down to the Quakers and Owls. Temple's quarterback opened the scoring with a 55-yard touchdown run. Penn, however, quickly adjusted to combat the signal-caller's lightning-quick speed. "We started out both rushing and then we decided that wasn't going to work because [the quarterback] was real quick," sophomore Billy Collins said. "So one guy dropped back and stayed and the other guy rushed and put pressure on him. When he didn't have anyone to throw to, it was easy to track him down and sack him." At the five-minute mark Penn quarterback Josh Coleman, who won the Mr. Penn competition last month, relieved senior Jeffrey Kirstein. With the clock winding down, a spark lit through the offense as the receivers -- namely senior Mike Roeltgen -- started to finally get their hands together. Late in the first half, Dan Kryzanowski came up with a huge play when he sacked the quarterback and the Quakers took over on downs. After an excellent double-threat execution of running and passing the ball down the field, Coleman ran the last five yards to put Quakers within one of the Owls. Coleman's completion to senior Mike Klatsky knotted the teams at seven as the clock wound down. After making the necessary adjustments to combat Temple's speed, Penn proved the stronger team at the onset of the second half. After just two minutes of play, Coleman completed a pass to Roeltgen to put the Quakers up 13-7. Collins then continued to maintain Penn's momentum by picking up his second big sack of the night. But the Owls answered back with just as much force. With 12 minutes remaining, Temple's quarterback ran 40 yards and the Owls converted the extra point to take a 14-13 lead. Immediately afterwards, the Owls dropped an interception, keeping Penn's drive alive. Responding to the adrenaline rush, Collins tipped the ball and Roeltgen picked it off with 7:30 remaining. The Quakers, starting at midfield, continued to drive the ball down the field, ending in Coleman's second touchdown of the night. After a one-point conversion from Coleman to Collins, the Quakers had a 20-14 advantage. Temple relied on only one plan of action -- divine intervention -- to overcome its six-point deficit, as the Owls had just 1:16 remaining to drive the length of the field. Temple's quarterback looked towards the heavens as he threw a Hail Mary downfield. For a split second the Owls' prayers appeared to go unanswered as Klatsky jumped in front of the pass and nearly picked it off. Instead of coming down with the game-saving interception, however, Klatsky merely tipped the ball into a Temple receiver's waiting hands for a 45-yard completion. Forty-five seconds later, Temple found the end zone to knot the score at 20. And seconds before the clock expired, Temple's prayers continued to be answered as the Owls converted the extra point to pull out a thrilling 21-20 victory.
It was a season finale that left fans waiting for the next episode. For the Penn field hockey team, Friday night's 4-0 loss to Princeton showed promising glimpses of what may be to come next season. For the Tigers, the victory put them one step closer to a possible share of the Ivy title and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Quakers' (5-12, 1-6 Ivy League) never-ending woes of injuries played a large factor in Penn's spot in the Ivy League standings this season. Second to last in the league, the Quakers were not predicted to come anywhere close to beating Princeton (11-6, 6-1), last year's NCAA runner-up. And although the Quakers gave up four goals to the Tigers, Penn held them scoreless for the first 20 minutes. Once the first goal found the cage, the Tigers unleashed their craving for a share of the Ivy title, and the Orange and Black dominated the remainder of the competition. At the 11:04 mark, Melanie Meerschwam gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead off a penalty corner. Meerschwam's goal was one of Princeton's 12 corner attempts during the game. Penn, on the other hand, rallied for only two corner attempts, both of which were unsuccessful in finding the cage. In addition to dominating on corner attempts, the Tigers outshot the Quakers, 15-2. Princeton's Ilvy Friebe scored the second goal of the game with just under three minutes remaining in the half, giving the Tigers a 2-0 advantage heading into halftime. After intermission, Princeton's Hilary Matson fired a shot past Penn goalie Alison Friedman -- who ended the match with five saves -- at the 24:08 mark. For the Tigers' fourth tally, Kellie Maul dribbled the ball down the middle of the field and scored Princeton's final goal of the regular season. "[Princeton] is a good team and although it probably wasn't as strong of a game as we would have liked to finish our season with, we definitely weren't lacking in any one particular aspect of our game," junior Amna Nawaz said. "In that sense it was nice to come together to end our season." Six seniors ended their college careers this past Homecoming weekend -- Courtney Martin, Katie McCuen, Jen Murray, Flynn, Brooke Jenkins and Leah Bills. Two of them, however, were struck by an unusual plague of injuries that has inflicted Penn during the 1999 season. Five yards from the sideline, Jenkins and Bills cheered on their teammates in what would have been their final game had they been healthy. Due to surgeries, Jenkins (ACL) and Bills (Achilles tendon) were forced to hang up their jerseys prematurely this season. With the two former starters watching helplessly from the trainer's golf cart, coach Val Cloud was able to put some new faces into the lineup. "Everyone on our team believes that anyone else can step up and play well, but it is difficult when two people who strongly lead our team in offense and defense aren't on the field," Nawaz said. "[Jenkins and Bills] left big shoes to fill, their absences were definitely felt." Freshman Colleen Connors made her collegiate debut on Friday. Other freshmen, such as Kylee Jakobowski and Mandy Doherty, have been "bright spots" throughout the entire season, according to Cloud. "We have so much potential on this team. Some of the players didn't even get an opportunity to leave the bench this season," Cloud said. "I'm sorry [the season] is over because we can still really improve. But at least in the springtime some of the other kids, who didn't get a chance to play this season, will gain some experience. That will be a big thing for next year." Unfortunately, this year's experienced Penn players were bombarded with a wave of bad luck. "Hopefully next year will be totally different in terms of our luck with injuries," Cloud said. "Every turn we made this season, something happened to somebody." The Tigers, meanwhile, were playing for pride and had everything to lose on Friday night. This year's Princeton squad became the first to lose a game in Ivy League play since the '93 season when it fell to Brown 2-1 in October. Whiel the Bears, undefeated in Ivy play, had clinched a berth in the NCAAs with the head-to-head edge over Princeton, the Tigers still had a shot at tying for the Ivy title. Princeton entered the week determined to beat both Columbia and Penn while also hoping that Brown would fall to Harvard, a .500 team in the Ivies. The Tigers, who handily defeated both Penn and Columbia, lived up to their part of the bargain. Surprisingly, so did Brown. Harvard, the obvious underdog, handed the Bears their first Ivy loss in a 3-2 overtime thriller on Saturday. As a result, the Tigers now share the Ivy title with Brown. Nevertheless, their season ended with the win at Franklin Field, marking the first time the Tigers seniors ended their season without a trip to the NCAAs.