Football Victories Spur Homecoming Hopes

By Jeffrey Hopkins

While its 4-2 record might not seem overly impressive, in order to judge the quality of Indians football this season, it’s most instructive not to look at where the team is today, but rather where it’s come from.  Only two years ago, Dartmouth football was in the midst of its first winless season in over a century, and more than a few critics were calling for Coach Teevins to be fired. Even last year, the excitement on campus that resulted from the team snapping its 17-game losing streak by beating Columbia could be seen as a sign of just how far standards had fallen. 

But heading into Homecoming this year, a different story appears to be unfolding.  While it’s unclear whether they will turn out to be a contender in the Ivy League, there’s no doubt that this year’s team is a much-improved outfit.   

Evidence for this claim could have been seen over the past two games, where the Indians have faced stern tests, but still secured wins, against Holy Cross at home and Columbia on the road.  In both cases, the victories came with an added amount of significance.  The team hadn’t beaten the Crusaders in seven years, and hadn’t won a road Ivy League game since 2006.  

As has often been the case this season, the Indians started slow against Holy Cross, as the Crusaders scored a touchdown on their opening position.  While Dartmouth was able to respond immediately- scoring a touchdown of their own to tie the score- they would soon find themselves down 16-7 after three first-half turnovers.

The Indians’ performance soon improved, however.  The offense drove 80 yards on its next possession, resulting in a touchdown for Conner Kempe ’12 on a quarterback sneak.  The score would remain 16-14 as the teams headed into halftime.

Although Holy Cross opened the scoring in the period with a field goal, the second half belonged to Dartmouth.   After Foley Schmidt ’12 kicked a 30-yard field goal to bring the deficit back to 2, Tyler Malone ’12 recovered a fumble on the Holy Cross 35-yard line.  While the offense was unable to convert the turnover into a touchdown, Schmidt did make the subsequent field goal, giving the Indians a lead with about 8 and a half minutes left in the game. The Crusaders had several more chances to retake the lead, but they all proved futile.  Linebacker Pat Scorah ’11 scored with 48 seconds left when he picked off a Crusader pass and returned it for a touchdown, bringing the final score to 27-19.   

While Dartmouth enjoyed the comforts of home against Holy Cross, they had to make the long trip down to New York for last weekend’s game at Columbia.  Making matters worse, it was Columbia’s Homecoming game, meaning the Indians would have to face a large, hostile crowd at Baker Stadium.  Not surprisingly, the team received a much tougher test than last year’s 28-6 drubbing.  

Once again, the defense struggled on Columbia’s opening drive, surrendering a touchdown. In doing so, the Indians continued their dubious streak of letting their opponents score on first possession in each game this season.  They would respond on the next drive though, scoring a field goal.  

Neither squad put numbers on the board again until midway through the third quarter.  It was then that Dartmouth would take its first lead of the day, as running back Nick Schwieger ’12 capped off a short drive with a one-yard touchdown.  After Columbia couldn’t get anything going on their next possession, the Indians increased their lead again.  In this case, the score didn’t come on the ground but through the air, as Kempe connected from 8 yards out with Mitch Aprahamian ’13.  

As solid a performance as they submitted in the third quarter though, the Indians were unable to sustain their momentum, giving Columbia amble opportunity to get back into the game.  The Lions seized upon their good fortune, recovering a Kempe fumble early in the fourth quarter on the Indians’ 30.  The Columbia offense took it from there, driving the remaining 70 yards for the touchdown to bring the game back within a field goal.  

Things would go from bad to worse for the Indians from there, as senior T.J. Cameron was hit hard on the ensuing kickoff and fumbled the ball away.  Defensive end Charles Bay ’11 seemed to squash the threat, forcing a fumble on the Columbia possession.  But the relief was short lived, as Schwieger fumbled the ball back to Columbia.  The Lions didn’t squander the opportunity this time, scoring a touchdown and taking back the lead.  

Despite doing more than their fair share to put themselves into a hole, the Indians’ offense proved more than able to cut back on their errors during their last possession.   During the course of the 14 play drive, the offense converted two big third downs, plus a fourth down, before Schwieger atoned for his fumble with a one yard touchdown.  The defense was able to hold for the remaining two and half minutes, securing the victory, which pushed the Indians’ record to 4-2 overall and 1-2 within the Ivy League.     

That Schwieger played a key role in the game-winning drive is far from surprising.  Through the first half of the season, he has been the offensive MVP and, as a result, a key part of the team’s turnaround.  Schwieger seemed to be on the verge of a major breakthrough last year, breaking the school record by rushing for 242 yards against Columbia.  Unfortunately, he broke his hand the next week against Harvard, virtually knocking him out for the rest of the season.   He has faced no such setbacks this year though, racking up 141.8 yards per game.  Not only does that figure make him first in the Ivy League, but also third nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).  Schwieger’s production is also a testament to the quality of the Indians’ offensive line, which has been equally stingy in the passing game, so far giving up only 2 sacks this season

Schwieger and the o-line alike will be challenged over Homecoming by the Harvard defense, however. Through their first six games, Harvard has only allowed opponents to run for 77.2 yards per game and racked up 18 sacks per game.  Whether this means that Kempe will face more pressure than usual will go a long way towards determining the result of the game.

Of even more importance, however, may be the matchup on the other side of the ball.  The Dartmouth defense, which is only sixth in the Ivy League, will face off against a formidable Harvard offense, which has so far put up almost 400 yards and 30 points per game.  They are especially potent in the running game, as they number one in the Ivy League (Dartmouth is currently third) and feature the best running back besides Schwieger in the conference, senior Gino Gordon.  

Gordon dominated the Dartmouth-Harvard game last year, needing just 8 carries to rush for 119 yards and 3 touchdowns.  The performance of the rush defense was representative of the day for the Indians, as the Crimson were able to amass 521 yards, on the way to a 42-21 rout.  

On the surface, statistics from last year’s game would seem to indicate that the Indians will be in trouble Saturday.  But then again, as the Indians have shown, this year’s squad is a truly different team.