PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - Army sprint football kept its College Sprint Football League title hopes alive by knocking off previously unbeaten Penn, 36-21, Friday night at Franklin Field.
Sophomore Javier Sustaita made his first career start at quarterback for the Black Knights and proved himself worthy of the role. Sustaita completed 64% (27-of-42) of his passes, tallying 362 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for two scores.
Army broke into the scoring column just over halfway into the first quarter, as Sustaita marched the Black Knights down the field, hitting four different receivers from a drive starting at Army's own 39. Sustaita capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown rush, followed by sophomore Kevin Scruggs connecting on the extra point.
The Army defense set the tone early, not allowing Penn into Army territory until 1:12 remaining in the first quarter, at which point sophomore Mark Maley forced a fumble and junior JP Cooper recovered for the Black Knights.
The Quakers responded early in the second quarter after an Army pass interference penalty put Penn into the red zone. Mike Bagnoli took advantage of the field position, using two rush attempts to get into the end zone.
Army answered on its next possession, as small gains were capped by a 21-yard touchdown pass from Sustaita to sophomore Cody Nyp. Scruggs hit the extra point, regaining Army's seven-point lead at 14-7.
Army's defense came up big once again on the ensuing drive, as senior Tyler Bambrick recovered a fumble at the 50-yard line, setting up another Army scoring drive. Sustaita connected with junior Ben Johnson for a 31-yard gain, getting the Black Knights within field goal range. Unable to get into the end zone, Scruggs drilled a 38-yard field goal to put Army up 17-7.
Penn's Whit Shaw returned Scruggs' following kickoff 87 yards, followed by a good extra point, closing the gap to 17-14.
The Black Knights responded with a strong return of their own, as senior Nelson Simmons returned the kickoff 44 yards into Penn territory. Sustaita once again used a variety of receivers to get better field position, before taking it in himself one yard for the score. Scruggs missed on the extra point attempt, keeping the lead at 23-14.
Once again the Quakers responded as Todd Busler hit Andrew Donald with a 43-yard touchdown pass, while Raiam Santos tallied the extra point, pulling Penn within two at 23-21 to end the half.
Both offenses sputtered to open the third quarter, combining for five consecutive three-and-outs. Neither team managed to get on the board in the third, setting up a tense fourth stanza.
Penn opened the fourth with another three-and-out, which Army responded with a 41-yard pass from Sustaita to Nyp to put the Black Knights deep into Pen territory. Senior Joshua Scott caught a five-yard touchdown pass to extend Army's lead, 29-21.
The Black Knight defense once again held strong, forcing the Quakers to a crucial three-and-out.
With 7:24 remaining, Army went to the ground game to burn some of the clock. Junior Mike Meier rushed three consecutive times, setting up a pivotal fourth-and-one at Penn's 44-yard line. Head coach Mike McElrath and offensive coordinator Mike Popovich gave Army's offense the green light, as Sustaita rushed for seven yards on fourth down, giving the Black Knights a critical first down, allowing them to remain in the driver's seat.
Meier made the gamble pay off, running the ball 22 yards for a game-securing touchdown with 2:34 remaining. Scruggs made the extra point, putting Army up 36-21, where it would stay the rest of the way.
The Quakers made one last run into Army territory, which was halted with a sack by senior Eric Kanney to push Penn back into their own field. The Black Knights would take over on downs to lock in the win.
Army's defense dominated the second half, holding Penn scoreless and limiting the Quakers to only four first downs and 96 total yards of offense. The Black Knights, meanwhile, tallied 230 yards of offense and 10 first downs in the second half.
Nyp proved to be Sustaita's favorite target of the night, making seven receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown. Josh Scott made six catches for 59 yards and a score, while Tom Jeffers had five catches for 52 yards.
Mike Meier and Marquis Morris had 12 rushes apiece, tallying 48 and 38 yards, respectively, while Meier also ran in for a score.
Army boasted 533 total yards of offense, while the defense racked up four sacks, including two by Kanney.
Army improves to 4-1 with the win, while Penn drops to 5-1. Navy (5-1) defeated Cornell (4-2) this evening, setting up a potential CSFL title game next weekend as the Black Knights travel to Annapolis, Md., to face the Mids on Nov. 5. Penn hosts Princeton (0-6) on the final Friday night, and with a win would earn a share of the league title along with the winner of the Army-Navy bout. Should Penn fall to the Tigers, the Army-Navy winner would be the CSFL champion outright. All kickoffs are scheduled for 7 p.m.