PHILADELPHIA - In a dramatic, come-from-behind overtime thriller, the University of Pennsylvania sprint football team clinched at least a share of their first Collegiate Sprint Football League Championship since 2010 with a 27-20 win over Cornell at historic Franklin Field.
How it Happened
After the emotion of Senior Night in which Penn (6-0) celebrated eight players graduating in May, the Quakers came out of the gates slow, and the Big Red took advantage. Cornell went for an onside kick on the opening kickoff and recovered the ball on the Penn 44-yard line. The Big Red were able to maintain possession for awhile, starting a drive that would eventually go for 11 plays before sputtering on fourth down at the Quaker 13 yard line giving the ball to the Red and Blue for the first time.
Unlike last game against Chestnut Hill, Penn's offense struggled early against Cornell, with sacks and penalties aplenty. The first drive of the game featured a 35-yard pass to Marcus Jones, but things would end on a Mike McCurdy fumble at the Cornell 39.
The Big Red started up right where they left off, using a methodical balance between rush and pass to confused the Quaker defense and move down the field. Quarterback Robert Pannullo would cap the first scoring drive of the contest with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Will Griffen, giving Cornell the early 7-0 lead.
Penn quickly went three-and-out on its next drive, giving the ball back to a red hot Cornell offense. The visitors would go another 13 plays before the Penn defense finally stopped things at their own 13 yard line. Ben Finklestein came out for the 34-yard field goal and made it, extending the lead to 10-0 and silencing the crowd at Franklin Field.
Right when the Red and Blue were looking for momentum, Cornell came up with a big sack on first down, again stalling Penn before things could even get started. The Quaker defense responded by holding off Cornell on its final offensive drive of the first half, giving Penn one final chance for a score.
Starting the drive with 2:10 on the clock at its own 38, Penn capitalized, moving the ball to the Cornell 47 before McCurdy struck for a miraculous Hail Mary to Jones to end the half. Mario Del Cueto's extra point attempt was blocked, but the Quakers were back in things at the break, down only 10-6. The halftime deficit was the first of the season for Penn.
After winning the toss and deferring to start the game, Cornell got the ball to the start the second half and took advantage, once again marching all the way down the field before eventually being stymied by the Penn defense and settling for a field goal, this time from 36 yards, to extend the lead to 13-6.
It didn't take long for Penn's offense to gain momentum in the second period, as on its first offensive drive of the half Jake Klaus used rushes of five, seven and three yards to set McCurdy up for another monster throw, this time to Aidan Kelly for 46 yards down to the Cornell 11-yard line. McCurdy eventually rushed from eight yards out for the score for Penn, but Del Cueto's kick was again blocked and Penn was kept to only six points, now down 13-12.
Back on offense, Cornell mixed things up, going for the big play yardage opposed to the slow, methodical pace it had utilized all night long. The Big Red needed only four plays to head 70-yards down the field, highlighted by a 39-yard touchdown pass to push ahead again, 20-12.
The score would remain 20-12 for the majority of the fourth quarter, as both teams traded double-digit long drives but eventually were held scoreless deep in opponent territory. After Penn held strong to force a fourth down and a punt as Cornell was marching in Quaker territory, McCurdy and Co. got the ball with one final chance at their own 7-yard line with 1:42 left to play. First, McCurdy rushed for 13 yards, before completing passes to Kelly and Andrew Sutton to get the ball out near midfield. McCurdy then found Kelly again, then Jones, then Kelly this time for a big 38-yard gain down to the Cornell 4-yard line with only 20 second remaining. The senior captain found Charles Augustini in the endzone among traffic, giving Penn its third and most important touchdown of the night. Down 20-18, the Quakers knew they had to go for two, and they did just that, connecting on a pass from McCurdy to Klaus to tie things up and send the contest to overtime 20-20.
Cornell went on offense first in the extra period, and on just its second play, senior captain Robert Diorio found himself with the ball in his hands, corralling his fourth interception of the year to give the ball to Penn needing only one score to win the game. A holding penalty would stall the Quaker offense however, and the Big Red would return the favor, picking off McCurdy and sending things to a second overtime.
This time, Penn hit the field first and took advantage, handing off to Klaus for three straight rushes, making it all the way to the Cornell 3-yard line. McCurdy was going endzone, but a Cornell lineman got a hand in the way of the pass that would eventually fall into the hands of Angelo Matos to put Penn ahead 27-20 after a successful Del Cueto PAT. Tom Console intercepted Pannullo's first pass of double overtime to seal the victory and the 6-0 championship record for the Quakers.
Inside the Numbers
On the night, Penn ended up winning the battle for yardage with 355 compared to Cornell's 336. The Big Red ran 44 times for 128 yards, while the Red and Blue took it to the ground 29 times for 75 yards. In the air, McCurdy went 16-31 for 280 yards and three touchdowns while Cornell's Pannullo finished 17-26 for 208 yards.
Chris Colavita and James Juliano were both strong forces on the defensive side of the ball, leading the way with 13 tackles each. Colavita notched three tackles for loss.
Friday's contest was Penn's second overtime contest this season, as the Quakers also defeated Navy in extra time by a score of 29-23.
Penn has now defeated Cornell four-straight years.
The Quakers will have a chance at their first undefeated season since 2000 next Saturday in the final game of the year, at Post at 12:00 p.m. With a win Penn would finish 7-0 and would become outright CSFL Champions.