Counting down the most memorable, dramatic, and important victories in the last 10 years of Penn sports.
Since the beginning of the decade, we’ve been compiling a list of the 10 best Penn games of every year (which at some point, morphed into “best wins”). Now, with 2019 about to end, it’s time to do a best-of-the-decade compilation.
As always, the list focuses on team sports rather than the more individualized ones. And with only a couple of exceptions, we’re not including the same sport more than once to try to spread it across the University.
Naturally, there will be plenty of great games left off. But below is hopefully a good representation of the upsets, buzzer beaters, and championship clinchers that defined Penn Athletics in the 2010s.
Exactly a year after Alexis Borden C’15 fired a perfect game in a one-game playoff for the Ivy League’s South Division crown, the ace pitched another gem in the final game of the overall Ivy championship series at Penn Park. Kayla Dahlerbruch W’14 belted the go-ahead home run in the win as the Quakers earned the program’s first league championship since 1981 and an automatic berth in their first-ever (and still only) NCAA tournament. Interestingly enough, the women’s lacrosse team (more on them later) beat the same team at almost the same time just next door to win its own league title that day.
Playing in front of a boisterous crowd at Rhodes Field, Penn won its first-round NCAA tournament game in sudden-death fashion. Christian Barreiro W’13, who’d go on to a brief professional soccer career, scored the game’s only goal in overtime to send the Quakers into the second round of the NCAAs (where they lost to perennial power Maryland). Afterwards, then-head coach Rudy Fuller (now an assistant athletic director at the University) said he’d never seen so many students cheering on the team.
During his 50-year tenure, Bill Wagner may have been known as much for his colorful personality and “Wagisms” as any on-field result [“The Unlikely Legend,” Nov|Dec 2019]. But the 2016 season was a remarkable one for the now 80-year-old retired head coach, who guided the Quakers to a rare sweep of Collegiate Sprint Football League juggernauts Army and Navy before this double-overtime thriller that clinched his last league title and one of two perfect seasons during his tenure. Standout quarterback Mike McCurdy C’17 led the comeback by orchestrating a 93-yard touchdown drive—and successful two-point conversion—in the final two minutes of regulation, before Penn managed to prevail in two overtimes thanks to a couple of defensive stands.
Although in this decade the Penn football team captured league championships twice before 2013 and twice after, it was a non-title-clincher that may have been the most memorable. In fact, there’s never been a game quite like this one as Penn won the longest game in Ivy history after David Park EAS’14 forced overtime with a blocked field goal in the final seconds of regulation. (Interestingly enough, the Penn baseball team also beat Dartmouth this year to win the longest game in Ivy League baseball history). Running back Kyle Wilcox C’16 EAS’16, a deep reserve at the time, ended the game with a 20-yard touchdown run before getting mobbed by exhausted teammates.
The men’s basketball team had some rough seasons this decade, but a Steve Donahue-led revival got the Quakers back on top of the Ivy League (more on that below) and rocking the Palestra with this upset of the nationally ranked defending NCAA champions. The result snapped Villanova’s 25-game Big 5 winning streak—and was Penn’s first win over Villanova in 16 years and its first win over an AP Top 25 team since 1998. Antonio Woods and AJ Brodeur, now a senior, led the way with 16 points apiece before fans rushed the court to celebrate.
It’s hard to choose from the several wild wins the men’s lacrosse team has had this decade. But with special acknowledgement to the 2014 “Cardiac Quakers”—particularly their come-from-behind win over Cornell in that year’s Ivy Tournament—last season’s team took the drama and success to a new level. Before winning the Ivy League and earning the program’s first NCAA tournament win under head coach Mike Murphy, Penn won this regular-season classic over the second-ranked team in the country. The victory included a game-tying goal at the buzzer of regulation from Tyler Dunn C’19 and a sudden-death, triple-overtime winner from Sam Handley W’22.
The women’s lacrosse team was a dominant Ivy force throughout the decade with a whopping eight league titles—and the Quakers also made their presence known on the national stage. Three years after they won an NCAA tournament game in overtime, the Quakers did it again even more dramatically, with Zoe Belodeau scoring the game-winner with 1.8 seconds left in her first NCAA tourney game. Belodeau, then a freshman, also scored on an around-the-back shot in that game that helped beat Penn State and land her on SportsCenter.
How do you pick between some epic wins over Princeton in what’s turned into a classic women’s basketball rivalry this decade? The one in 2014 was more of a shocker as it ended the Tigers’ stranglehold on the league. But this one, two years later, showed Mike McLaughlin’s squad planned to stay as an Ivy power, as the Quakers clinched an NCAA Tournament berth for the second time in three years (before returning to the tourney the following year, thanks to another win over Princeton). This one was also the closest title clincher, with the Quakers surviving at Jadwin thanks to some clutch shots from Kasey Chambers C’17 down the stretch. After the short trip home, they then cut down the nets at a mostly empty Palestra.
Exactly two months after the football program’s first win over Villanova since 1911, the Quakers reeled off another stunning upset over a nationally ranked team on the road. This win, at Harvard, was most notable because it snapped the Crimson’s 22-game winning streak, the longest in the nation. Wide receiver Justin Watson W’18—then a sophomore, now catching touchdowns in the NFL—completely dominated with 249 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yard fourth-quarter run that sealed the win that led to a piece of two straight Ivy titles (thanks to another thrilling win over Harvard the following year). Overall, it was one of the best offensive performances in program history—and few people saw it coming.
The Quakers had a few inspired performances versus Harvard this decade, including a one-point upset led by Zack Rosen W’12 in 2012 and a 2017 victory that put the Quakers into the first Ivy Tournament after an 0-6 start in league play (both of which could easily be on this list). But no moment was better than the 2018 Ivy Tournament championship in which a magnificent first half from Darnell Foreman C’18 and a couple of huge second-half three-pointers from Caleb Wood C’18 were the differences in a back-and-forth showdown at the Palestra. The win sent the Quakers to the NCAA Tournament for the first (and only) time this decade—and seemed to lift a collective weight off of Penn fans everywhere. —DZ
Below are the Gazette’s top 10 games/wins lists from previous years: