Sprint Relies on Defense to Deny Mansfield, 16-13

PHILADELPHIA – The University of Pennsylvania fought through a night where things were not clicking on all cylinders offensively, scrounging up a 16-13 win over Mansfield to stay in second place in the Collegiate Sprint Football League.

Penn’s defensive group was the collective star of the game, limiting Mansfield to 117 yards of total offense and dialing up a momentum-changing turnover to set up the game-winning touchdown.

Trailing, 13-10, with half of the fourth quarter to play, Penn was facing a 4th-and-goal from the Mansfield 1-yard line. The Mountaineers jumped the called handoff to Jake Klaus, and stuffed him for a two-yard loss to turn Penn over on downs and seemingly sway momentum to the Mansfield sideline.

However, before the Mountaineers could properly celebrate their big stop, Penn came up with one of its own. On the very next play, Mansfield running back Aren Harris fumbled the exchange and Marcus Jones pounced on the loose ball to set up the Quakers right where they had just been – first and goal from the one.

Two plays later, Mike McCurdy rushed around left end and in for the winning touchdown. The lead was only three, though, as a low snap on the extra point was fumbled away and the Mountaineers would only need a field goal to tie the game.

Mansfield appeared to be well on its way to getting into field goal range on the ensuing kickoff as Ricky Robinson returned it 48 yards to the Penn 33. However, an illegal block by the Mountaineers negated the big return and instead started Mansfield at its own 17. A Quinn Karam pass deflection on third down halted that Mansfield drive.

The Mountaineers would have one more chance to score, but again Penn’s defense stood tall. After a Robinson punt return set up Mansfield at the Penn 43 with 2:32 to play, Sam Smallzman dialed up the final of his four sacks to push Mansfield back eight yards. On the next play, Jones got a hand on a pass to bat it down at the line of scrimmage. On third down, Karam and Patrick Boyle combined to stuff O’Connell for a one-yard loss. On fourth-and-19 from the 48, Robert Diorio deflected a pass to turn the Mountaineers over on downs and allow Penn to run out the clock.

The defense had to come through as Penn was its own worst enemy at times on offense in the first half. Penn had a 212-100 edge in total yards in the first half, but McCurdy was intercepted four times to halt almost every Penn scoring drive.

The only Penn drive in the first half that resulted in a touchdown was a seven-play, 56-yard drive which ended with a seven-yard pass from McCurdy to Henry Mason midway through the first quarter to give Penn a 7-3 lead.

After that drive, Penn’s next offensive possession resulted in a quick punt, and then the next four trips were all ended by an interception. The first was off a tipped pass in the end zone, and the second was a nice play by Damarkus Jones to rip the ball out of the hands of Andrew Sutton, but nonetheless Mansfield had many prime chances to turn those turnovers into points.

The Red and Blue’s defense did not wilt under the constant pressure forcing punts on the immediate possessions following the first three picks before the Mountaineers finally capitalized on the fourth after a 56-yards interception return set them up at the Penn 7. Two plays later, the Mountaineers connected on a six-yard touchdown pass with 0:46 left in the half to take a 13-7 lead.

The Penn response to that turn of events likely changed the course of the game.

Penn was opportunistic in its efforts, needing just three plays to move a total of 49 yards to set up a Mario del Cueto 35-yard field goal with no time on the clock.

On first down, McCurdy got back in the groove, hitting Jack Epstein for a 25-yard gain which included an Epstein fumble which Andrew Sutton recovered. On second down, McCurdy found Mason for 14 yards to move Penn to the Mansfield 32 with 0:08 seconds left in the half. Penn tried a long throw to the end zone, and Mason drew a pass interference call with no time remaining – allowing one untimed down for the Quakers. Penn took the points, del Cueto connecting from 35 yards out.

Quinn Karam led Penn’s defense with nine tackles, and Marcus Jones added eight to go with his crucial fumble recovery. Sam Smallzman had seven tackles – including four sacks.

Henry Mason had nine catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. He now has 31 catches for 530 yards this season – a yardage total which ranks third all-time in a single season by a Quaker. His 906 career receiving yards are fourth-most all-time at Penn.

The Quakers will take on first-place Army West Point on the road next week, kicking off at 7 p.m. on October 23.