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Freshman are no lightweights

(11/05/97 10:00am)

The Penn lightweight football team is out of contention for the 1997 ELFL title, but the future is bright. The 1997 Penn lightweight football season has been highlighted by its quest to repeat as Eastern Lightweight Football League champions and the phenomenal running of tailback Tim Ortman. Amidst this excitement, the team's freshmen players have quietly given the Quakers the ability to be competitive. "In the past there have been times when the number of lightweight football players was pretty high. Then, freshmen mostly played in practice only," defensive line coach Tony DiPetro said. "There was also a time when freshman had no experience." "Now, our guys come out of good high school programs, so they can contribute immediately," defensive coordinator John Amendt said. "I'd say at least 20 of our players could play for Division III programs." "There a couple of freshmen who have taken starting jobs from sophomores and juniors," Amendt continued. "This is the best freshman class we've had since I've been here." A primary example is at quarterback. Freshman John Kernan stole the starting job from sophomore Zachary Shinar after a few games of the 1997 season. Kernan leads the team in all statistical categories. His 38.5 completion percentage, 214 passing yards and one touchdown are superior to Shinar's 22.6 completion percentage, 69 yards and zero touchdowns. Who is Kernan's most frequent target? Freshman tight end Scott Moore, who leads the team with nine receptions and 112 receiving yards. Second to Moore is freshman split end Dan Reeves with 38 yards on four receptions. Moore has also done an excellent job punting since the injury to Keith Lotman. He is averaging 33.4 net yards per punt with his longest punt of 48 yards coming last week against Navy. Much of the depth in the backfield and the offensive line lies in freshmen hands. Until both were injured, fullback Evan Kipperman and tailback Chris Wright had key backup roles. On the offensive line, tackle Steven DeWitt and guard Tim Schoenrock are the first players off the bench at their positions. If you throw Ortman -- only a sophomore -- into the mix, this offense has a nucleus that will play together for another two years to come. The defense, which has allowed less than 10 points in its last two games and shut out Princeton earlier in the season, has been boosted by great play from the Class of 2001. John Clarke, Mike Viney, Kevin Manning and Steven Schickram have all started this year for the defense. Combined, Clarke and Brad Gusich have two of the Quakers' five interceptions this season. "Five freshman -- Gusich, Viney, Clarke, Manning and Schickram -- were on the field together for most of the time in our biggest game of the year last week against Navy," Amendt said. "If they have the confidence to play, and I have the confidence in them, then why not play them?" Volunteer coach Clint Schmidt, who played for last year's championship team, said, "If that core of freshmen play together for the next three to four years, they'll be scary." This year's freshmen have already made big plays in the 1997 season. They are a big reason why this team could finish tops among the Ivy League schools in the ELFL. Although a championship is out of reach for this year's team, one can only wonder what reward these players can accomplish in a couple of years. Perhaps the answer is a championship ring.

Lwt. Football drops to Navy, loses hope for ELFL repeat

(11/03/97 10:00am)

As the Penn lightweight football team entered its final home game of the 1997 season, the odds were stacked heavily against them. Its opponent was undefeated Navy, which beat Army, 21-16, earlier in the season. This is the same Army team that blanked Penn, 38-0. Penn, however, came well-prepared, but was unable to pull off the upset, as they lost, 9-3, on Franklin Field. Going into Friday's game Penn (2-3, 1-2 Eastern Lightweight Football League) still had a chance at a second consecutive ELFL title. If Penn had beaten Navy(6-0, 3-0), then a win next week against Princeton, and a Navy win over Army would have caused a three-way tie for the ELFL title. "The defense was able to step up, but unfortunately the offense was unable to capitalize," said Quakers defensive back John Clarke, who had an interception on a spectacular diving catch. This was the story of the game. The defense played perhaps its best game of the season, almost shutting the Midshipmen. Navy's offense, which averaged 34.8 points per game and 309 yards per game, was only able to muster nine points on 248 yards. "Our defense forced Navy to punt the ball more than they probably punted all year," Quakers coach Bill Wagner said. "The young guys on defense, like David Klein, John Clarke and Mike Viney, stepped up, as well as seniors Kwesi Edwards and Mario Malcolm." After Penn and Navy traded field goals in the first quarter, Navy scored its lone touchdown of the day after senior linebacker Jeff Rogish picked off a pass on the Quakers' 13-yard line. Placekicker Jose Perez missed the extra point wide left to keep the score 9-3 in Navy's favor. With time running out in the first half, quarterback John Kernan marched the Quakers down the field. The Red and Blue made it inside the Midshipmen's 10 for the only time of the day, only to turn the ball over on an interception at the Navy three-yard line. Throughout the second half the Quakers held the advantage in field position. Penn had the ball three times in Navy territory, but came up empty all three times. "There were a couple of times we didn't connect on key passes," Wagner said. "There were also a couple of penalties that hurt us." One penalty could have made the difference in this barnburner. With the ball at midfield, sophomore tailback Tim Ortman (103 yards rushing) beat the Navy defense around its right side and tight-roped down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown run. The run, however, was called back on a holding penalty, which the Penn coaching staff couldn't find on the video tape. The Quakers came close to pulling off a major upset en route to another ELFL title. Navy and Army -- both undefeated in league play -- will square off next weekend for the championship, while the Quakers travel to Princeton for their final game of the season.

Future is wide open for Ortman

(10/22/97 9:00am)

The Penn lightweight football running back could rewrite the record book and be captain one day. "He's got a work ethic that's unbelievable. He never misses practice. He does extra running. He's always in the weight room." Sophomore lightweight football tailback Tim Ortman has exemplified the words of Penn lightweight football coach Bill Wagner since he began playing football in fifth grade. He started playing football because it was a family tradition and his favorite sport. In fact, Ortman followed his cousin Steve, who was a tailback for the Penn football team in the 1980s. Before coming to Penn, Ortman was always considerably smaller than the opposition. During his senior year of high school he was too small to play tailback, so he was moved to wide receiver. "Tim was always at a disadvantage size-wise," said Sue Ortman, Tim's mother. "When you're small you have to work harder, but Tim persevered." One way Ortman tried to overcome his diminutive stature was by using strength, so he began lifting weights. "He's powerful. He brings his own block with him, and that's in his shoulder and forearm," Wagner said. Ortman also used other tactics to excel at tailback. "I tried to increase my speed because the faster I am, the less I have to run into bigger players," Ortman said. "I also tried to outsmart them." Also a wrestler for Penn, Ortman never had these kinds of obstacles to overcome because wrestlers grapple in their own weight category. Originally, Ortman was recruited by Penn for wrestling team. That is how Wagner discovered Ortman. Wagner found out about him from an alumnus who heard he was applying to Penn as a wrestler, so he contacted Ortman. When Ortman found out about the lightweight football program, it helped his decision to come to Penn. "Penn was great, because I could wrestle for a Division I school and still play football," Ortman said. "It's nice because I finally get to play football against people my size." "I thought Tim was going to be really good coming in," Wagner said. "It turned out he was outstanding as a freshman." Ortman easily exceeded Wagner's expectations last year in his rookie season. He averaged five yards per carry and scored five touchdowns. Ortman was also the first player to score a touchdown against Navy's defense, as he bowled over two Midshipmen on the goal line to score. His hard work has continued to pay dividends this year. He's already amassed over 450 yards in his first three games. With three games remaining, he has a chance to break the Penn single-season rushing record held by Mark Dianno, who rushed the ball for 925 yards in 1989. Ortman has already done some record breaking this season. His 226 yards rushing against Princeton broke Tommy Morrin's record of 207 yards set in 1993. "Ortman is amongst the top four backs I've coached here," said Wagner. The other three are Dianno, Morrin and Steve Galetta, who holds the record for most career yards rushing in Penn lightweight football history. So what else might the future hold for Ortman? With continued hard work, Ortman could break most of Penn's lightweight rushing records. According to Wagner, he might even "rewrite the playbook." Additionally, Wagner says he expects Ortman to become more vocal over his remaining years, and could be a team captain by the time he graduates. "If we could win the league in the future, Tim's a potential ELFL (Eastern Lightweight Football League) MVP," Wagner said. With Ortman's excellent performances at tailback, he could bring the Penn lightweight football team back to the top. With Ortman's dedication, there is one thing that's definite: he will do everything possible to do so.

Army blanks Lwt. Football, 38-0, in ELFL revenge-fest

(10/20/97 9:00am)

"There are not too many excuses for our defeat," Penn lightweight football coach Bill Wagner said. "They used the revenge factor to their advantage." Last year was only the second time in Penn history that the Quakers beat Army. That win enabled them to earn a share of the Eastern Lightweight Football League title. Army looked to punish the Quakers for last year's defeat, as they came out hitting hard. The vengeful Cadets handed Penn a 38-0 defeat in its first ELFL game of the season. Two big offensive plays and stellar defense were the difference in Army's victory. Army (4-1, 2-0 ELFL) scored on its third play of the game on a 60-yard halfback option. A 50-yard bomb to the end zone a few drives later made the score 14-0. Meanwhile, the Quakers gained only one first down in the opening quarter. Penn (1-2, 0-1) had a couple of opportunities to keep the game close, but it failed to capitalize. The Quakers got inside Army's red zone twice, only to be pushed back by holding penalties. Their failure to convert when inside the 20-yard line combined with 10 Army points in the second quarter put the game out of reach, with the Red and Blue down 24-0 going into the locker room. "They have the best front line I've played against in my four years at Penn," said senior co-captain Mark Menkowitz, who starts at center. "Mostly juniors and seniors start on their program, so they very prepared by the time they get a chance to play." Despite the dominance of the Army defensive line, Quakers tailback Tim Ortman was still able to gain over 90 yards. "He's still the best back in the league," said Wagner. On the other side of the Penn ball, senior cornerback Justin Reger and freshman linebacker Mike Viney led the defense with solid play, even though the defense surrendered 38 points. "After Army's two big plays the defense settled in and continued to hit and played hard until the end of the game," Wagner said. "This is a young team, so there should be a big improvement over the next few weeks." The team hopes Wagner is right, as it will try to duplicate last year's resiliency. After opening ELFL play with a loss last year to Navy, the Quakers bounced back win three consecutive wins for a share of the ELFL championship. "The season certainly isn't at a loss because there are a lot of games left to play," Wagner said. "Navy beat Army earlier in the season which is an indication of how good they both really are." The main focus for the Quakers right now is to respond with a win against Cornell on Friday. Cornell defeated Penn earlier in the season 21-7 at Cornell in a non-league encounter, but the Quakers are confident they can do what Army did to them: use revenge to their advantage.

Lwt. Football, P'ton renew their rivalry

(10/03/97 9:00am)

The Penn lightweight football team has had two weeks to prepare for what may be its biggest game of the season. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Franklin Field, the Quakers take on their archrival, Princeton. The Quakers are hoping they got all of the kinks out since the 21-7 loss at Cornell two weeks ago. The Quakers believe last weekend's Alumni Game and the extra week of practice leaves them ready to play a sound game. The Penn defense needs to improve its play from their last game. Poor tackling and no forced turnovers caused the Quakers' demise. Captains Mario Malcolm and Jordan Matusow lead a veteran defense that will line up against an inexperienced Princeton backfield. "We need to force mistakes and turnovers," Penn defensive coordinator John Amendt said. The Quakers (0-1) plan to take advantage of Princeton's inexperience to do exactly that. The Quakers have been watching tapes all week of Princeton's wishbone offense, which is run only by them and Army in the Eastern Lightweight Football League. "Every player has a specific role against the wishbone offense," Penn head coach Bill Wagner said. The Quakers' defensive players need to fulfill their unique roles to shut down the Tigers' offense. "Discipline is the key because their offense will wait for a defensive breakdown and then attack," Penn defensive backs coach Nate Scott said. The wishbone offense is a formation which gives the quarterback a variety of options. He can hand-off to the fullback, pitch to the halfback, throw or run the ball himself. Last year, the Quakers defeated Princeton twice, 30-12 at Princeton and 46-14 at Franklin Field. Despite the large margins of defeat, the Tigers (0-1) played the Quakers tough for over a half both times. The key to Penn's success was superb play by the special teams and great games from 1996 ELFL MVP Clint Schmidt and tailback Tim Ortman. Wagner hopes the special teams and Ortman can repeat last year's performances. Ortman ran the ball for 129 yards in Penn's opener at Cornell. If Ortman can gain similar yardage tonight, the Quakers should be able to put points on the board against Princeton. "Princeton will be up and ready for us," Quakers defensive line coach Tony DiPetro said. Despite Penn's recent success against the Tigers, this is their most important game of the year. There is nothing Princeton would rather do than win at Franklin Field. This is also one of the biggest games of the year for Penn, due to this immense rivalry. Ironically, Penn and Princeton are similar teams. They are both led by the two most experienced coaches in the league. Wagner notes he and Princeton coach Tom Murray have been involved in lightweight football for over 50 seasons combined.

Alumni Game evokes tradition

(09/29/97 9:00am)

If nothing else, the fifth annual Penn lightweight football Alumni Game, held Saturday, proves the commitment lightweight players have to the program and the camaraderie of players past and present. The Alumni Game was introduced to provide an event that would annually reunite the alums. It also serves as a "preseason" game for the players before Eastern Lightweight Football League play begins. Penn opened its regular season against Cornell last week and hosts Princeton this Friday, but ELFL play does not begin until October 17, when the Quakers travel to face Army. "The Alumni Game has grown from something that was experimental into a full-day event," said Penn defensive backs coach Nate Schott, who played for the alumni team as a member of the Class of 1989. The events included more than just a football game. After the game, there was a barbeque for the 150-plus people who attended. Many of the game's attendees were families of the alums and current players. There were also pony rides and a face-painting clown for the kids. The day also serves as a major fundraiser for the lightweight football program. The generous gifts of the former players provide the program with almost 50 percent of their funds. The game was also special to the program because the Dan Doheny Lightweight Football Team Room was donated by Doheny's father-in-law in his memory. A major reason the Alumni Game is special is that the alums all played for coach Bill Wagner, who is in the midst of his 28th season at Penn. The returning players love to come back to see Wagner and give him credit for keeping the program alive. "This program had a chance to die two or three times in the last 15 years, but Wagner kept it alive," said John Lopez, captain of the 1985 Quakers team. "You can't underestimate his contribution considering five lightweight football programs have died in recent years." "The day made me realize this game is about more than just a bunch of guys who play football," said Evan Kipperman after participating in his first Alumni Game. "It's about tradition." "The game is all about players who love to play the game," Schott said. Schott remembers playing his last high school game and thinking it was the end of his career. Lightweight football, however, gave him a chance to play at the collegiate level. The introduction of the Alumni Game now gives him a chance to play one more time a year. "I was looking forward to beating up on my old teammate," Penn volunteer coach and 1996 ELFL Player of the Year Clint Schmidt said. He also enjoyed playing against people he coached, as did Schott. They both commented that they even coached their players, who were also their opponents, while play was going on. In addition to the fun that the post-game activities provided, the game also proved to be a close one. The lightweight team came from behind to defeat the alumni team, 12-10. Down 10-6 late in the game, the lightweight team completed a fourth-down pass thanks to a spectacular one-handed grab by freshman tight end Scott Moore on the two-yard line. On third down, they ran the ball in for the winning touchdown. "The whole game is about the atmosphere," Schmidt said. The atmosphere Saturday was great due to a good football game, festivities for the family and the reunion of past lightweight football players, who provide the tradition of this program, which is all about "players who love the game."

Lwt. Football drubbed in Ithaca

(09/22/97 9:00am)

Last Friday, the Penn lightweight football team kicked off its season at Cornell's Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y. Due to poor play on both sides of the line and a lack of discipline, Penn lost its opener, 21-7. Quakers coach Bill Wagner also blamed Friday's loss on the need for an exhibition game. Wagner said he would rather play the alumni game, which pits the team against former lightweight players and scheduled for this weekend, before the start of the season. It would, therefore, serve as a tune-up and a chance for the rookies to play in a game atmosphere before the actual season begins. Cornell (1-0) has already played its alumni game and performed less sloppily Friday. Despite the lackluster performance, the Quakers (0-1) had a few highlights. Sophomore tailback Tim Ortman ran the ball 129 yards, including a 53-yard run. He scored the Quakers' lone touchdown and averaged 32 yards on two kickoff returns. Senior captain Jordan Matusow had a solid defensive performance, as he led Penn in tackles. Cornerback Justin Reger also played well for the defense. The best play for the Quakers may have come from the special teams. They amassed 111 return yards. They also blocked an extra point on Cornell's second touchdown to keep the score at 13-7. Wagner attributed the loss to poor tackling, blocking and bad penalties -- nine for 60 yards. Also, the Cornell quarterback was able to covert on third-and-long a number of times. This enabled the Big Red to control the time of possession, as they had the ball for almost three quarters of the game. Since the Quakers' next official game is not until October 3 against Princeton, Wagner plans to use the extra week of practice to his advantage. He said he was going to work on the aforementioned problems and also try to sort out the quarterback situation. Starting quarterback Zachary Shinar had difficulty in his first career start. He went 4-of-22 for 35 passing yards. Freshman John Kernan took a few snaps but then hurt his hand. According to Wagner, Kernan should get limited time in the alumni game, but he will be back for the Princeton game. The Quakers suffered another key injury in Friday's game. Defensive back Keith Lotman broke a metatarsal bone in his thumb and is expected to be out for the Princeton game. The coaches are hopeful he will be back in the lineup for the October 17 game against Army, which is the first Eastern Lightweight Football League game of the season. Despite erratic play by the Quakers, the team trailed only 13-7 at the half. After failing to score on the opening drive of the second half, Cornell marched down the field and scored a touchdown. The score was then 21-7, following a successful two-point conversion.Wagner pinpoints this and the Quakers' failure to score later on when they drove all the way to the Cornell 22-yard line as the turning points of the game. Nevertheless, Wagner and his players are optimistic about the rest of the season. With two weeks of practice ahead, Wagner said, "We will be ready for Princeton." Cornell travels to West Philadelphia later in the season and Wagner is confident that "we can beat Cornell." The Red and Blue hope they have gotten the bad game out of their system and will go on to repeat last season's championship performance.