With 2016 coming to an end, it’s time to count down the best games of the year in Penn sports. There were some great ones to choose from this year (and even more great moments and individual performances that don’t qualify as “games”). But here is my choice for the most dramatic, memorable and important games played by Penn teams over the past 12 months. For reference, here are the lists from last year, 2014 and 2013.
Standout senior Alec Neumann finished the year with nine goals — the second highest total in the Ivies. Two of them came in Penn’s Ivy opener, including one golden goal to send the Quakers to a dramatic sudden-death victory in Ithaca. Joe Swenson assisted on both of the goals for the Quakers, who saw nine of their games go to a second overtime en route to a 5-6-6 overall record.
The men’s lacrosse team has made a habit of winning wild, come-from-behind games over the past few years and 2016 was no different. Trailing 9-6 in the second half, Penn rallied to take a 12-9 lead before Harvard tied it up at 12-12 and again at 13-13. That’s when Reilly Hupfeldt scored the game-winner with just 15 seconds left — his fourth goal of the game clinching Penn’s spot in the Ivy League Tournament.
Perhaps unfairly, Penn tennis doesn’t always get its due. But when you beat the school’s biggest rival thanks to three third-set tiebreakers, that’s good enough to qualify as one of the year’s best games … make that matches … make that series of matches. Even better, all three of the wins came with Penn trailing 3-1, with Matt Nardella, Ismael Lahlou and No. 1 Kyle Mautner all pulling out the extremely narrow victories in Penn’s final match of the season in front of a big home crowd at the Hecht Tennis Center.
Penn’s field hockey team won 11 games in what was another quality season for the upstart program. But this one was probably the most memorable for three reasons: the Quakers rallied back from two separate two-goal deficits, they won on an overtime goal from senior Claire Kneizys, and Alexa Hoover became the all-time points leader in Penn history — just four games into her junior year. The Quakers had another nice come-from-behind win over a Big 5 rival later in the season as Hoover scored four times in a 6-4 triumph over Villanova.
Even better wins appear to be on the horizon for the rapidly improving men’s basketball team under second-year head coach Steve Donahue. But as far as non-conference victories go, this one was one of the Quakers’ best in the last decade as they upset a top 70 team on the road. The best part: AJ Brodeur, who’s proving to be one of the best freshman this program has ever had, scored several key buckets down the stretch by going right up against 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, the tallest player in college hoops.
Consistently the most successful program at the University, Penn women’s lacrosse had another year to remember, winning two games in the NCAA Tournament, two one-goal thrillers over Harvard (including on in the Ivy League Tournament semifinals) and a drubbing at fierce rival Princeton en route to its ninth regular-season Ivy title in 10 years. But nothing showcased the level head coach Karin Corbett has taken the Quakers as much as their early-season win over then-No. 8 Northwestern — Penn’s first victory over a Top 10 team since 2013 and its first over national power Northwestern since 2008, snapping a nine-game losing streak to the Wildcats. Not surprisingly, it was senior captain Nina Corcoran, who enjoyed a historically good season for the Quakers, who scored the sudden-death winner to set off a huge celebration at Franklin Field.
No team at Penn had as many crazy games in 2016 than the sprint football team — or had more reasons to celebrate. After upsetting Army a couple of weeks earlier, the Quakers looked to complete the sweep of the two service academies — long the two most dominant teams in the CSFL — for the first time since 2000. It looked like that probably wouldn’t happen when Navy tied the game at 23-23 with 24 seconds left, needing only an extra point to win it. But remarkably, the Midshipmen missed two straight extra points (getting a second attempt after Penn was called for a penalty), allowing the Quakers to score the game-winning TD in overtime and then, after seeing their own extra point attempt get blocked, sealing the win by recovering a fumble. And still, somehow, the best was yet to come …
It takes a lot for the same program to get on this list twice but the sprint team deserves it. Two weeks after stunning Navy, the Quakers needed a win over Cornell to clinch at least a share of the CSFL championship. But, once again, it looked like they had run out of magic — until standout quarterback Mike McCurdy orchestrated a remarkable 93-yard touchdown drive in the final 100 seconds, followed by a successful two-point conversion, to keep their title hopes alive. The Quakers then won in double overtime thanks in part to the defense picking off two passes, before capping off the second perfect season in head coach Bill Wagner’s 46-year tenure the following week.
What’s the only thing better than beating a nationally ranked Harvard team in the penultimate week of the season to set up the opportunity to win the Ivy League championship in the final week? Doing it again the next year but this time at home. That’s exactly what the Quakers did, who grabbed a piece of their second straight Ivy title under second-year coach Ray Priore thanks to this massive win at Franklin Field. Naturally, the electrifying combo of quarterback Alek Torgersen and wide receiver Justin Watson came through when it mattered most, teaming up to spark the game-winning drive after Harvard made up an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game at 14 with 3:23 left. Penn also had two defensive touchdowns, including one as time expired from lineman Taylor Hendrickson, to hand Harvard its first Ivy loss and set themselves up to share the title with Princeton the following week (after Harvard lost its finale vs. Yale).
Earlier in the year, the Penn women’s basketball team used a stifling defensive effort to beat Princeton by two at the Palestra, the first time the mighty Tigers lost a conference game since 2014. That only set the stage for an even bigger two-point win in March as the Quakers came through with some huge plays down the stretch in the de facto Ivy League championship game, including an off-balance three from point guard Kasey Chambers, to complete the sweep of Princeton and earn their second automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in the last three years. The Quakers then returned home from Princeton to cut down the nets at a mostly empty Palestra — perhaps the most memorable moment in a year full of them.
— Dave Zeitlin C’03