Monday, June 15, 2015

10 Essential Bagnoli Wins

Al Bagnoli won a lot of games at Penn, 148 of them to be exact. And with nine Ivy championships to his name, it would be hard to pick ten or even 20 of the most important wins of Bagnoli’s career with the Quakers.

But strictly as Columbia fans, there are ten Bagnoli wins that I think should mean the most to us as we think a little more specifically about what we want from our new head coach.

Here’s my list in chronological order:

Penn 13 Yale 10 (1992)

This win told us something very important about Bagnoli and what he would go on to do at Penn. It was not a dramatic win, as the winning field goal from Andy Glockner came just a few seconds into the 4th quarter. It was not a pretty win, as both offenses simply appeared to grind it out for 60 minutes, (although Penn RB Sundiata Rush did have 132 yards on 25 carries and a 41-yard TD run). It was simply a game where the Penn defense picked up a one-dimensional offense and just didn’t let up. The Quakers had eight sacks in the game, including two on Yale’s last possession. After three straight losses to the Elis under their previous head coach Gary Steele, Bagnoli guided Penn to a win in his first try against Yale.

It was the first of what seems like too many Bagnoli wins to count that followed a very similar M.O. It was a gutty win that mostly relied on a punishing defense. It was a win that used what strengths Penn did have to their fullest. And it was in no way a blowout.

Penn 30 Princeton 14 (1993)

This was Bagnoli’s first truly great victory at Penn, as the Quakers thrashed the defending Ivy champs at Franklin Field. The ’93 Penn team was a lot more talented than the ’92 team to be sure, but the master stroke that won the game came from the coaching staff. Bagnoli and his assistants relied on a steady diet of draw plays to fool the Tiger defense and it worked to perfection as RB Terrance Stokes ran for a Quaker record 272 yards on an incredible 42 carries. In his early days at Penn, Bagnoli was blessed with a steady diet of very talented running backs. It may be hard for Columbia to emulate that early on, but at least we can have confidence that if the Lions do score a great back, Bagnoli will know how to use him.

Penn 12 Columbia 3 (1994)

1994 was the year that Columbia finally broke out of its multi-decade funk and actually posted a winning season. The Lion defense made a big splash in this game by strangling a Quaker team that had put 59 points on the board the week before against Holy Cross. Penn was held without a TD, but eked out the win with four FG’s from Glockner.

For many years to come, Penn would win a lot of games against Columbia at Franklin Field similar to this one. With everyone expecting a blowout, sometimes a team can really lose focus when it turns out your opponent isn’t such a pushover after all. But time after time, Bagnoli found a way to keep his team from becoming too shocked to salvage the game. Columbia would suffer similar losses despite better-than-expected showings at Franklin Field in 1998, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2012. And there would be a handful of games like this at Wien Stadium as well. Why is this important? Because great coaches can’t stop their teams from underachieving from time to time, but they do stop them from losing most of those games anyway.

Penn 34 Yale 21 (1998)

In 1998, Penn had a bevy of offensive talent. But the defense could sometimes be a bit spotty. That was obvious a week before this game as the Quakers lost one of the greatest games in Ivy history, 58-51 at Brown. But the Bears couldn’t keep the momentum going for the full season, while Penn bounced back with this win over Yale and didn’t lose again that season.  It was a big back again who helped make the difference. This time it was future NFL’er Jim Finn. But this time, Penn also had a super QB in Matt Rader, a transfer from Duke.  

The big reason why this was one of Bagnoli’s best wins is that exemplified the way he really mastered the mental aspect of the game. The way he got his team to bounce back so effectively after the Brown loss was masterful, and it too would be a feat he would repeat many times over the years after tough losses.

Yale and Brown would go on to share the Ivy title the following year. But thanks to this win especially, the Quakers won the 1998 title outright.

Penn 41 Brown 38 (2000)

Big comebacks aren’t really a part of Bagnoli’s resume at Penn. There were games when the Quakers came from behind to be sure, but not games where they were behind by three scores or more.

That’s what happened in this game, the third of three in a row between Penn and Brown that were all totally fantastic contests.

Brown won the 1998 and 1999 games, (the ’99 game was a 44-37 final score), but could not hold on after leading 38-20 with just five minutes left to play.

Again, this was the era of big-time offensive powerhouse teams under Bagnoli. The QB was Northwestern transfer Gavin Hoffman who might have been the best Bagnoli QB ever coached.    

A lot of people will point to the 36-35 win over Harvard two weeks later as the key win for the eventual champion Penn that season. But without this crazy comeback win over Brown, I really don’t know if the Quakers would have been able to win that game against the Crimson.

Penn 44 Harvard 9 (2002)

The hype surrounding this game was huge as ESPN’s “College Game Day” show set up shop at Franklin Field in what was essentially the Ivy championship game for that season. The way that Penn didn’t get distracted by that hype and just totally eviscerated the Crimson was a real tribute to Bagnoli. I always thought the 2002 Quaker team was the best one Bagnoli fielded at Penn and this game is really the best argument for that.

Penn 22 Harvard 13 (2006)

This was another example of the mental mastery Bagnoli wielded at Penn for 23 years. The Quakers came into this game after losing a gut-wrenching three straight games in overtime. Harvard came in at the #17 ranked team in D-IAA and had a great shot at winning the Ivy title. Even though the Crimson put up generally better stats, Penn still came away with the win.

2004-2007 was the darkest period of Bagnoli’s tenure with the Quakers, but this win was the highlight of that time.

Penn 17 Harvard 7 (2009)

Very few of Bagnoli’s great wins at Penn came on the road, so this defensive gem at Harvard to essentially clinch the Ivy title was probably the best of them. The 2009 Penn defense was the best defense I’ve ever seen in the Ivies, (I’m too young to have seen the 1970 Dartmouth team that basically shut out everybody that season). The seven points allowed in this game were part of the just 21 total points the Quakers allowed throughout the entire second half of the season. Harvard came into the game with the best offensive stats in the Ivies, but they couldn’t get more than 250 total yards in this game.

The win ended a long, (by Bagnoli’s standards), six-year Ivy championship drought for Penn.

Penn 27 Columbia 13 (2010)

Columbia came into this game riding high after two straight routs over Princeton and Lafayette, and Penn had just barely beaten Lafayette in week one of the season. But the Quakers of the final decade of Bagnoli’s tenure in Philadelphia were most characterized by a strong focus on the line of scrimmage. Penn’s teams in this era weren’t as chock full of great skill players like the Quaker teams of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but they could really dominate the line of scrimmage when it mattered. The eventual 2010 champs took a lot of air out of Columbia’s sails right on the opening possession as the offensive line started to simply push the Lions all over the field. On defense, the front seven pounded Columbia and QB Sean Brackett all day in almost a brutal display.

For the rest of the season, only Yale would give Penn much of a run for their money. No one could beat those front lines.

Penn 28 Princeton 21 (2012)

This was another rarity of the Bagnoli era, as it was a big comeback win on the road. Princeton was on the rise in a big way, (the Tigers would share the title the following year), and had every reason to believe it would win after taking a late 21-7 lead.

But Bagnoli knew how to let the gutsy QB Billy Ragone bounce back from mistakes and lead his team to victories. That’s exactly what happened in this game, where Ragone completed just 10 of 23 passes and threw a costly interception earlier in the contest. A lot of other coaches would have pulled Ragone, but not Bagnoli even though he often shuttled QB’s during his Penn years.

This was really the last great win of Bagnoli’s time at Penn and it ended up being one of the most improbable in retrospect. But improbably victories are what great coaches bring you.


Coach said...

Good article, Jake. Bagnoli's real greatness at Penn was managing the administration. He got the job done with admissions and financial aid. The guy knows how to run a football program, and will do it if the powers at Columbia work with him.

RLB said...

was Penn 27 Columbia 13 (2010) the one during which a Lion FY DB dropped a pass and the Quakers continued their advance to the deciding TD near the end of the game?

Jake said...

No. That was the 2012 game.

oldlion said...

What was the game in which our receiver was tackled at the one when time ran out or else we would have had the win?

Jake said...

You might be thinking of the 2011 game vs. Penn where our receiver was tackled at the four and then we committed 3 penalties in a row and had to settle for a tying FG. The game where time literally ran out on us at the one or two yard line was the 35-31 loss to Cornell at home in 2000.

I remain, very truly yours, Richard Szathmary said...

For a team like we've had the last few years, all and any wins are in fact "essential."

Coach said...

Finally, no more excuses about the Coach.
No more complaining that the coach can't recruit, can't call plays, can't hire good assistants, or doesn't understand the league.

oldlion said...

Jake, Asia Sunset has sunk to a new low. Today he posted that our transfer QB from Florida is damaged goods, that the rest of the Ivies passed on him, and that he had unspecified "off the field" issues. It's one thing to be a fanatical Penn booster, but this guy engages in character assassination. He is worse than foehi, because foehi makes not bones about the fact that he is a dirtbag.

Jake said...

Mornhinweg ended up in a well-publicized fist fight with a Florida teammate after that teammate stole his property. No one at Florida or anywhere else found fault with Mornhinweg over that, and the person who he fought with was soon off the Gator squad. I doubt "off the field issues" are a factor with him. The only issue is whether he can bring in right away. From what I'm hearing, Bagnoli thinks so.

oldlion said...

Asia has it out for this young man. Must be a back story involving Penn because he has gone out of his way to put this young man in a negative light. Or maybe Asia is still smarting over Al's move to Columbia along with Fabish.

Coach said...

I noticed on the Princeton football web site a list of approximately 10 "athletic academic fellows". Not sure if these are tutors. Does anyone know, and does Columbia do the same?