ITHACA - For a team that has scored over 24 points in four games entering the weekend, Penn's sprint football squad has had most of the attention placed on its three-pronged attack on offense. However, in a match-up of unbeatens in Ithaca on Friday, it was Penn's defense which made noise in a 17-12 win over Cornell.
While Cornell's total yard accumulation of 309 leans in the direction of offensive domination, the fact that the Big Red were not able to cross into the Penn end zone is the real story. Four times Cornell breached the red zone - and all four times the Quakers' defense closed the door. The four field goals Alex Peristein converted was a nice night for the placekicker, but 12 points was not enough to overcome the red-hot Quakers.
With a five-point lead and Cornell moving deep inside their territory, the Red and Blue came up with a huge play on fourth-and-goal from the Penn 7-yard line and less than 10 seconds to play. Zak Klinvex and Gage O'Connell combined to track down Cornell quarterback Elliot Corey, sacking him for an 18-yard loss and snuffing out any chance of a Cornell comeback.
Penn improves to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in CSFL play. Cornell, which entered the weekend with the same record as Penn, falls to 4-1 and 2-1 in League games. The Quakers now control their own destiny when it comes to securing a CSFL championship - wins in their final two games at home against Army and Princeton will give Penn the title.
Penn forced a three-and-out on Cornell's first possession, then showed a special teams flare that has followed Penn all season.
Anthony DiBella stepped up to block the Big Red's punt and recovered the loose ball to set up the Quakers with prime field position at the Cornell 29.
Eight plays later, Mike Bagnol scampered in from six-yards out to give Penn the lead. Bagnoli finished with 89 yards on 23 carries, averaging 3.9 yards a rush.
Cornell had some traction on its next drive, moving the ball to midfield. However, Chris Twombly stepped up for the defense, intercepting Elliot Corey's pass at the Penn 28 and giving the Quakers back the ball.
Five plays later, quarterback Todd Busler hooked up with Whit Shaw on a 39-yard passing play for Penn's second touchdown. The Quakers had ran the ball four plays in a row to start the drive, opening up space for Shaw in the secondary.
That was about it for the Penn offense for a while, however, as the Quakers missed a field goal on their first drive of the second quarter and then went three-and-out on four of their next six drives. The two other drives resulted in an interception on the first play and a one-play drive that was the end of the half.
While Penn's offense was sputtering, the defense kept Cornell from scoring touchdowns. On the Big Red field goal drives, Cornell was able to move to Penn's 7, 5, 17 and 12-yard lines. Each time, the Red and Blue limited Cornell to just three points. On two of those drives, Penn's secondary forced incomplete passes on third down and on the other two, the front seven stopped Cornell rushes from picking up the points.
Perilstein's fourth field goal of the game cut Penn's lead to 14-12 with - ironically - 14:12 to play in the game. The Big Red had rallied and had momentum, forcing Penn to put more points on the board.
The Quakers went on a nine-play, 49-yard drive to set up a Raiam Santos field goal from 27-yards out. Busler made two big plays on the drive, the first a 24-yard pass to Freddy Ordonez and the second a 20-yard quarterback keeper to give Penn the ball inside the Cornell red zone.
The Quakers committed a holding penalty on second down on its next possession, pushing themselves back to their own 14. Cornell came up with a stop of its own, forcing Penn to punt and giving the Big Red the ball at the Penn 46 with 3:52 to play, setting up the exciting final drive.
Penn was out-gained by Cornell, 309-178, and gave up 24 first downs to just eight of its own. However, the work of O'Connell (11 total tackles - six solo), Paci (10 tackles - seven solo), Marcus Goodwin (nine solo stops) and the rest of the defense made up for the lack of ball movement.
The Quakers are back on the field at home on Oct. 29 against Army at 7 p.m.