Dartmouth Football: Midseason Update

Dartmouth football has started its 136th season in quite an impressive fashion. Five games in, the Big Green are 5-0 but have won four out of those five by a combined total of eight points. The team shot out of the gate with a dominant 37-7 victory over Stetson, but has since had to pull off miraculous comebacks and a bit of lucky magic. In the home opener against Holy Cross, the game went into overtime and the defense had to make a fourth down stop to hold onto a 27-26 win. The very next week against Penn, backup quarterback Jared Gerbino ran in the winning touchdown as time expired for the 16-13 road win. To continue this bizarre trend, during Dartmouth’s very own homecoming, the Big Green went down 21-0 against Yale in the second quarter before cornerback Isiah Swann intercepted a pass and took it back for a touchdown. Led by senior quarter Jack Heneghan, Dartmouth stormed back in the second half and took a one-point lead with 34 seconds left in the game. The crazy homecoming game ended with a 28-27 Dartmouth win. This past weekend, Dartmouth found itself in a familiar position. After being down 23-14 at the half, Jack Heneghan, affectionately known as Quarterback Jack (QBJ), threw the game winning touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter for the 29-26 win over Sacred Heart. That makes it the 10th consecutive non-conference win for Dartmouth.

Reaching the halfway point of the season undefeated is a huge improvement over last season’s subpar 4-6 record. One of the notable changes was the addition of Kevin Daft as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The offense struggled mightily in 2016 but in 2017 has shown some promising strides. Quarterback and team captain Jack Heneghan has improved immensely from last season as he now has 978 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and only 2 picks. However, the strength of the offense appears to be in the team’s ground game. Dartmouth, led by Senior Ryder Stone, is fourth in the Ivy League in rushing yards (922).

On occasion, however, the play calling appears to have hindered the team more than it has helped. Dartmouth very clearly wants to be a run first team and many teams know it. Especially in the first half of games, opponents have continually committed to stopping the run and stagnated the Big Green’s offensive attack. The team rallies when Heneghan is in control and slinging the ball everywhere. This was most evident in the Yale homecoming game as the Big Green only attempted seven passes in the first half. At one point in the game Yale outgained Dartmouth offensively 273-54 yards. Dartmouth continued going to the ground but were unable to move the ball, resulting in the 21-point deficit. In the second half, the coaches gave QBJ the reigns and let him spark the comeback. Heneghan threw 3 touchdown passes in the second half and finished with 314 yards off a career high 42 attempts. Other notable offensive contributors include wide receivers Hunter Hagdorn, Emory Thompson, Drew Hunnicutt, and Dylan Mellor and backup quarterback Jared Gerbino. The four wideouts have combined for 664 yards and eight touchdowns. Hagdorn exploded his freshman year as a fast and shifty slot receiver. Unfortunately, he hurt his ankle during the Yale game and his status is unclear. Thompson has proven to be a great outside receiver and currently leads the team in receptions with 17 and three touchdowns. Hunnicutt has lately grown into Heneghan’s most reliable target and leads the team with 203 yards and 3 touchdowns. Mellor has stepped up greatly in the absence of Hagdorn and will definitely get more looks as the season goes on. The newest wrinkle to the group is sophomore quarterback Jared Gerbino. Gerbino, a powerful, 230-pound grinder, is mainly used in the wildcat formation and other short yardage situations. He is second on the team rushing with 131 yards and two touchdowns. He has only attempted three passes on the year so it is unclear whether or not head coach Buddy Teevens is grooming him and preparing for Heneghan’s inevitable departure. But for right now, Gerbino is being used as a gadget and it’s working.  Moving forward, Dartmouth needs to find a balance and not lean to heavily on one dimension. All LSU fans know exactly what happens when a team only runs and does not pass enough. Ask Leonard Fournette.

On the other side of the ball, the defense has continued suffocating its opponents left and right. The Big Green have the Ivy League’s third best defense allowing 325 yards per game. The team is also second in the league with seven interceptions, two of which resulted in touchdowns. Senior captains Jeremiah “JD” Douchee and Kyran McKinney-Crudden provide strong leadership for the defensive unit. McKinney-Crudden is currently third on the team in tackles as a safety and owns one of the team’s seven interceptions. Douchee, is a fifth year senior defensive end who has battled through multiple injuries  over the course of his career, has finally broken through and has earned his fair share of playing time this year. Some notable contributors on the defense include Jack Traynor, Justin Edwards, and Jackson Perry. Junior linebacker Jack Traynor currently leads the team with 47 tackles. He also has 2.5 tackles for loss (TFLs) and a pick to go with his impressive season. Another linebacker, senior Justin Edwards, leads the team with two sacks and has three TFLs to go along with his forced fumble. Finally, big, 300-pound defensive tackle Jackson Perry leads the team with five TFLs to go with his 1.5 sacks. The junior is a big presence on the line and a key reason for Dartmouth’s fourth best rushing defense, but was also hurt during the homecoming game against Yale and may not return this fall. With such a strong defense, it appears Coach Teevens is trying to apply the same formula that won him a piece of the Ivy League title in 2015: play good defense and give the offense a chance.

With the loss to Columbia behind them, Dartmouth will look to bounce back and finish off the rest of their schedule filled with only Ivy League opponents. October 28th will be a road game to the bitter rival that is the Harvard Crimson. The Big Green definitely aspire to get over this hump; Dartmouth has not beaten Harvard since 2003. The Crimson currently have the top defense in the conference and currently sit at 3-3, so the annual rivalry will be a much anticipated slugfest. The subsequent game is against Cornell, which looks destined for the bottom of the Ivy League standings after a 2-4 start. The fun game, however, will be the game against Brown in Fenway Park. Dartmouth will be one of the few teams with the opportunity to play a football game in a baseball stadium! Brown sits in the bottom half of the league in nearly every offensive and defensive category and the Big Green should be able to win under the Green Monster. Then, in the season finale, Dartmouth will get the chance of knock off last year’s co-champion Princeton back home on Memorial Field. The Dartmouth-Princeton game has always proven to be exciting and is often of significant importance. In 2015, the Big Green pulled off an amazing 17-10 win that sealed a share of the Ivy League title. Princeton proceeded to get revenge with a 38-21 victory the following year. Currently, the Tigers have a 4-1 record and are 1-1 in league play. However, they are armed with the league’s top total offense and top passing offense averaging a staggering 468.4 and 300.4 yards per game respectively. It would not be a surprise if the champion is once again decided by the Dartmouth-Princeton game. At the halfway point, this 2017 squad shows strong promise and is currently in the good graces of lady luck. Hopefully they’ll stay on her good side, however, as it is always better to be lucky than good. Of course, being good helps too. Coach Teevens continues to push his team forward and Dartmouth’s 19th championship seems to be just over the horizon.