After tense win, Penn preps for William & Mary


After tense win, Penn preps for William & Mary

As his Penn football teammates rushed to the back of the end zone to mob Kyle Wilcox, David Park remained in a crouching position on the sideline, exhausted, immobile, deeply emotional.

The Quakers had just won the longest game in the 138-year history of the program, beating Dartmouth, 37-31, in four overtimes at Franklin Field on Saturday. And Park was a huge reason why, scoring a second-quarter defensive touchdown and blocking a chip-shot field goal in the final seconds of regulation to send the game to OT.

It was quite the remarkable performance for the Quakers’ senior linebacker, who lived in South Korea until he was 12 and had never even heard of football until middle school, when he first strapped on the pads and “didn’t know any rules and got like four penalties a game.”

Less than a decade later, Park made the most memorable play in one of Penn’s most memorable games in recent history. But before he could celebrate, he had to catch his breath and stop cramping.

“I was just on my knees,” Park said. “I was so tired. It was very emotional for us.”

Wilcox felt the same way at the end of the four-overtime marathon. And his journey into Penn lore was equally improbable. Wilcox, who was a defensive back last season, wasn’t even on the team’s running back depth chart when Saturday’s game began but, because of injuries, assumed the role of primary ball carrier late in the fourth quarter and into overtime.

And after Dartmouth failed to score during its possession to start the fourth overtime, Wilcox ended the Ivy League opener when he bounced to the right sideline and ran into the end zone from 20 yards out.

But as his teammates celebrated, he could only think of one thing.

“I really wanted water,” Wilcox laughed. “I don’t think I ever got so many carries in such a short time period in my life. It was very hard to get water.”

Such was the scene in the exuberant moments after Penn’s dramatic victory for Park, Wilcox and the rest of the overjoyed yet overtired players. And the mood’s been just as good at Franklin Field this week, even if head coach Al Bagnoli has scaled things back in practice so the Quakers can deal with the achy muscles that came along with playing the longest game in program history.

“It was tiring, physically and mentally,” Park said. “But we’re really glad we won. I’m really proud of everyone that fought right until the end.”

How does a team come back from such a wild game? For the Quakers, it might be an especially difficult task, considering they play a very good scholarship squad in William & Mary on the road this Saturday (3:30 p.m.). It’s the last non-conference game for Penn, which has its eyes set on its third outright Ivy League title in the last four years, and almost like an exhibition because of the archaic rule that prohibits Ivy schools from qualifying for the FCS playoffs.

But the Quakers are still eager to keep the momentum rolling from their win over Dartmouth.

“To me personally, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the kids on the team, we don’t go into non-conference games saying it doesn’t matter or it doesn’t count,” Wilcox said. “I want to win no matter what. I don’t think anyone likes losing. I’m personally not changing anything and I don’t think other guys are changing anything either.”

Wilcox admitted he hopes Saturday’s game, and then the team’s remaining six conference tilts, won’t be quite as crazy as Penn’s win over Dartmouth and that the Quakers can “just seal the win at the beginning.” But as stressful as Saturday’s game might have been, it was still something he’ll never forget.

Consider the roller coaster of emotions: When Dartmouth was lining up for the potentially game-winning field goal in the final seconds of regulation, Wilcox remembers turning to starting running back Brandon Colavita on the sideline and saying, “Oh well, we’ll get it next week.” Colavita’s response: “It’s not over yet.” Wilcox thought to himself, What is he talking about? They’re on the freaking 4-yard line about to kick the game-winning field goal with four seconds left. Then, he watched in disbelief as Park somehow got his hands on the 21-yard field goal attempt, keeping the game -- and the Quakers’ chance at another outright league title -- alive.

“From the time Park blocked it,” Wilcox said, “I knew the team was going to do whatever it took to win.”

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he added. “And I’m really happy I got to be a part of it.”

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

USA Today Images

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

It's been 12 days since Villanova's season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus crisis. Jay Wright held a video conference on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics. 

Here are the major takeaways from Wright's session with the media.  

This March is different

Villanova missed out on opportunities to win a fourth straight Big East Tournament and participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Wildcats won eight of their final nine games to clinch a share of the Big East regular season title. Not having a chance to shine in the postseason stings. 

"Missing the NCAA Tournament is obviously tough for our guys," Wright said. "We felt like we were playing great basketball, coming on strong. I always say we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year, and I think we were doing that. It is what it is, our guys get it. 

"It's a great example of our mantra 'attitude'. We try to teach our guys that you don't have control over what happens in life. What you do have control of is your response to what happens to you. 

"I don't know if there's even been a March where I wasn't either in (the NCAA Tournament), watching it or recruiting during it. I'm testing myself on what else is there in me? Being a better father, being a better husband. Spending more time with the kids, watching more movies, reading more, trying to be more worldly. I'm not very good at it but I'm trying."

Will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA? 

Arguably the biggest question concerning Wright's team heading into the offseason is will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA or will he return for his junior season at Villanova? Wright mentioned that Bey was especially disappointed when this season was cut short. He realizes that he has a big decision to make on his future. Wright discussed Bey's future plans as well as freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is also considered an NBA prospect. 

"The NBA is still on hold," Wright said. "They don't have a plan yet for what they're going to do with the pre-draft process or the draft yet. Saddiq and Jeremiah probably both will go through that process when we find out what it is. They're waiting on us for information, should they start working out? We're trying to get them as much information as possible. 

"If we were in a normal timeline, they would both go through the process. As we learn what the NBA is going to do there are so many possibilities. Just to take it to an extreme, there's a possibility they might not have a pre-draft process and just have the draft with no workouts, using the evaluations they had during the season. 

"We're communicating with both of them daily. Saddiq is having a tough time trying to find a place to work out in [his hometown] Washington D.C. He just got a gym to get into so he can shoot, he can't find a gym to get into to lift. Jeremiah is trying to find a place around here to get into to shoot."

2020 Summer Olympics postponed

Wright was supposed to spend a portion of his summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team in Tokyo. But with this week's announcement that the Olympics are postponed, his plans have changed. 

"It's the right decision," Wright said. "I feel bad for all of those athletes that it's once in a lifetime experience. I really feel bad for them. For basketball guys it's not as difficult. I talked with [U.S. head coach Greg Popovich] yesterday. It's postponed, obviously not cancelled, postponed until some time next spring or summer. There's a lot of questions there. They could do it late spring, when you might not have NBA players. If they did it in the summer maybe you do have NBA players. We have to wait for the IOC to make those decisions. 

"For us personally (at Villanova), it's kind of crazy because we thought we came up with this great plan. I was going to have to leave our offseason program for the Olympics. We had a plan to work around that, and now it doesn't matter. We'll be here in June and July. Now we don't even know if the players will be here. We worked so hard to put this plan in place for me being away and now it doesn't even matter."

Phillies season on hold

A Bucks County native, Wright is a huge Philadelphia sports fan. He had Phillies season tickets as a kid and is a regular at Citizens Bank Park during the summer months. Like all Phillies fans, he's disappointed the baseball season isn't starting this week.

"The end of the basketball season was always sobering," Wright said. "But what always saved us was the start of the Phillies. Opening Day and the start of baseball season in our family is a big deal. 

"We watch the spring training games, we'll even joke, 'Who do the Phillies play tonight?' It's really surreal. Spring time without baseball, especially the Phillies, is bizarre. It's really the way myself and my family get ourselves out of basketball mode. We go to Opening Day, we go to the Phillies games, we love 'Bark in the Park', we always bring the dogs. We're really going to miss it."

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Florida Gulf Coast's massive NCAA Tournament upset in Philly was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

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Florida Gulf Coast's massive NCAA Tournament upset in Philly was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

I'll be honest. My North Philadelphia roots didn't make room for a lot of in-person sporting events. So as an adult, getting to the games was a must and the NCAA Tournament was always high on the list. Every March, I rooted for the Philly teams and the players I loved. So when the tournament came to Wells Fargo Center in March of 2013, I was all in. 

Thanks to Florida Gulf Coast University I got the complete and full embodiment of March Madness and then some.

The WFC has seen a ton of great basketball, from Allen Iverson's ear cupped encores to the frenzied success of Villanova's second home in South Philly. 

I guarantee you it was never wilder there than when this bracket-busting 15-seed had fans mobbing them in the hallway after an upset over Georgetown.

FGCU had all the swagger of James Brown in a fresh jumpsuit taking the court against the Hoyas. I had no idea what I was about to see.

They called themselves "Dunk City" and by the time the game was over, Georgetown was also calling them Daddy. I actually had Georgetown going to the Final Four in my personal tournament bracket, which as a 2-seed was a pretty mundane pick. That may also explain some of the bitter feelings I have thinking back on the cocktail of emotions I experienced as FGCU turned my "sheet of integrity" into liner for my cats' litter box. 

I'll never forget how those blue and green uniforms flew up and down the court, dunk after dunk. But it wasn't just the fact that they were dunking or hitting important shots, it was the way they were doing it. There were alley-oops, back-door slams, tip dunks, chin-ups on the rim. There were heat check three-pointers from Conshohocken, catch-and-shoot, in-your-face threes. The FGCU Eagles were talking trash and backing it up, the whole. nine. yards.

These kids absolutely knew they could beat Georgetown and then went out and did it with as much bravado and moxie as if destiny owed them a favor. When the weekend was over, I guess it did. They beat San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16. The only 15-seed to ever do it.

For a city that loves a good underdog, this was Vince Papale and Rudy with a little Bad News Bears on the side. Unbelievable. Happy to say I was in the building for a flat-out epic NCAA Tournament game which brought the captivating theater of the unexpected right into my lap.