Cameron Pollack | Sun Photography Editor

The return of senior running back Kevin Nathan from injury wasn't enough for the Red to top Penn.

October 30, 2016

Conference Champion Penn Denies Cornell Sprint Football’s Upset Bid

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After coming off of a win over Post (0-6), the Red (2-4) was looking to complete an upset for the ages when the team faced undefeated Penn (6-0) on the road.

However, the Quakers shot down Cornell’s upset bid, 27-20, in a double overtime nail-biter.

Cornell finally returned senior running back Kevin Nathanson, who was injured in the team’s season opening loss to Navy. Last season, Nathanson averaged over 50 yards per game on the ground.

“It was awesome finally getting back on the field,” Nathanson said. “I was looking forward to this, and was just trying to do my best to help my team win.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Red was tasked with stopping arguably the best player in the CSFL, Penn quarterback Mike McCurdy. Through Penn’s first five games, McCurdy averaged over 250 yards passing per game and accounted for 12 passing touchdowns.

The last time the Red beat the Quakers was in a six-overtime thriller in 2012.

To begin the game, Cornell attempted an onsides kick, which the Red recovered, and subsequently marched down the field all the way to the Penn 13-yard line; however the team turned the ball over on downs.

The Red defense was successful at stopping the Quakers’ potent offense on the ensuing Penn possession. Cornell quickly forced a fumble and the Red took over.

With the ball back, the duo of Nathanson and senior quarterback Rob Pannullo guided the Red into the endzone. The drive culminated with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Pannullo to freshman wide receiver Will Griffen.

The Red quickly forced a three-and-out, and then was able to get into the red zone for a third straight possession, and freshman kicker Ben Finkelstein nailed a 34-yard field goal to give Cornell a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

With under two minutes remaining in the first half, McCurdy did what he does best, engineering a scoring drive for the Quakers, ending in a 47-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Jones on fourth down to end the half. However, the Red was able to block the extra point attempt, keeping the score at 10-6 in favor of Cornell at the half.

At the start of the third quarter, Cornell received the kickoff, and then moved the ball to the Penn 19-yard line, capping off its first possession of the second half with another field goal from Finkelstein.

However, McCurdy would not be denied. He led the Quaker offense 79 yards and capped off the drive with an eight-yard rush for six points. Again, the Red blocked the extra point, keeping the score at 13-12 in favor of Cornell with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

On the next drive, Pannullo connected with senior tight end Rob Hendricks for a 39-yard touchdown pass to extend Cornell’s lead.

The Red held an eight-point advantage until McCurdy got his hands on the ball with 1:42 left in the game. He picked apart the otherwise strong Cornell defense, willing his Quakers into Cornell territory on a 38-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Aidan Kelly. McCurdy completed his game-tying drive by passing for a touchdown and then completing the necessary two-point conversion to knot the score at 20 with two seconds left.

“Penn has a really good offense and we wanted to keep them off the field,” Pannullo said. “So for us, a major key coming into the game was time of possession, which we led by approximately 17 minutes.”

In the first overtime session, Cornell began with the ball, but the Quakers intercepted Pannullo’s first pass of the drive.

But McCurdy had the same luck as Pannullo, seeing his fourth down pass attempt intercepted by senior linebacker Chris D’Ambrosio.

In the second overtime, McCurdy’s third passing touchdown of the night gave the Quakers the lead. However, the Red’s first play of the second overtime was intercepted, ending the game.

“I felt so badly for our players,” said co-head coach Bart Guccia. “They played their hearts and souls out; they left everything on the field.”

Pannullo finished the night with 208 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also added 61 yards on the ground.

Nathanson ended with 67 yards rushing. Griffen, Hendricks and junior wide receiver Ryman Seeley each finished with over 50 yards receiving.

With the win, Penn was crowned champions of the CSFL, and will look to finish its season undefeated when the team travels to Post.

Next week, the Red will end its season at home against Franklin Pierce (3-3).

“That will be our seniors’ final game, and we are looking to send them out with a home field win,” Guccia said. “They have put a lot of time into this program for the last four years, so our underclassmen owe it to them to give their best effort next week against Franklin Pierce.”