This one, Al Bagnoli would be the first to concede, no one saw coming.
There was no reason to believe Penn was on its way to a ninth outright Ivy League title in Bagnoli’s 21 years at the helm. Not after a two-touchdown loss to Yale that dropped their record to 2-4.
“On the way home I said to our staff, ‘I don’t recognize our team,'” said Bagnoli, a day after the Quakers (6-4) pulled out a 35-28 clincher at Cornell. “We just had an epiphany after that. There was no indication after that Yale game we were a championship team. Our kids could’ve splintered pretty easily, but they really held firm and we all went back to work.”
Five weeks later, including wins at Princeton and last week’s 30-21 showdown over Harvard, they’re alone at the top, but with nowhere to go since the Ivies don’t participate in the FCS playoffs.
“It’s human nature you’d want to pit yourself against the best,” said Bagnoli, recalling how he once went 13-1 at Division III Union before falling in the championship game, “but our league has a unique set of rules. If you’re not careful, you can get frustrated. But you know the rules when you take the job. I often wonder about it, though.”
So he and the Quakers have Penn’s third outright title in the last four years and 16th overall to savor through the winter.
“It was A, the most improbable one, and B, the most memorable because of the context of all we had to do,” Bagnoli admitted. “Nothing’s come easy. Virtually every game went to the wire. That’s what makes it more satisfying.”
Especially since he never saw it coming.