Homecoming Football Postmortem

A scene from the Homecoming game.

A scene from the Homecoming game.

As the embers of the bonfire burned out and the rain cleared, it was time for Big Green football. The October 18 Homecoming game marked the seventy-eighth meeting between longtime rivals Dartmouth Big Green and Holy Cross Crusaders. Up to this point, Holy Cross had led the historic series by 37-36-4. The Big Green definitely wanted to even that out and avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss, which came from a Holy Cross field goal in the last minute of play.

The first half consisted of a defensive struggle between the two teams as neither offense got into rhythm. Both teams went three and out on their first series. Place kicker Alex Gakenheimer ’17 made a first quarter field goal to put the Big Green on the board first. Despite a big interception by nickel back Frankie Hernandez (the first in the ’16’s career) and a sack by A.J. Zuttah (the ’16’s first of the season), the Green only led 10-6 by halftime. Quarterback Dalyn Williams did not appear comfortable in the pocket and was forced to scramble for yards on multiple occasions. Not only that, Holy Cross recovered a fumble on an unusual and lucky play in the second quarter. Williams appeared to have completed a pass to running back Brian Grove for an eight yard gain. Unfortunately, as Grove was tackled, the ball came out and bounced off of Grove’s foot and into the hands of a Holy Cross defender. At the same time, the Big Green defense struggled defending the Crusader’s spread option attack, as quarterback Peter Pujals threw for 208 yards and ran 19 times for 82 yards. Pujals’s scrambling, combined with his quick reads on the option plays confused the Big Green defense for most of the game, as Holy Cross rushed for 188 yards and held the ball for just under 32 minutes (Dartmouth had it for 28 minutes). However, the Big Green defense did step up when it counted and held the Crusaders to only two field goals in the first half. This could be credited to the Big Green’s slight switch to a 4-3 scheme as opposed to their usual 3-4 base.

At the half (while the ’18’s were rushing the field), Dartmouth Head Coach Buddy Teevens made the necessary adjustments to get the offense clicking: he ran the ball – a lot. The team opened the half feeding the ball to running back Kyle Bramble. Bramble ’16 carried the ball 19 times for 113 and caught a third quarter touchdown. More read option plays were called so Dalyn Williams also got the chance to show off his running ability. Placing a bigger emphasis on the run game definitely gave a much needed spark to the offense in the third quarter as both Bramble and Williams juked and spun around defenders moving the chains. Brian Grove ’16 later ran in a touchdown. Tack on an interception by safety Troy Donahue ’15 (his third in three consecutive games), and momentum was all Big Green as they led 24-6 at the end of the third quarter.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good feelings ended, as Holy Cross pulled off a 17 play, 93 yard touchdown drive to start the fourth quarter and cut the lead to 24-13. The Crusaders did creep back to 24-21; however, they could not recover an onside kick, which gave the Big Green the ball back, but only for a short while. The Crusaders did get the ball back with 1:25 left to play, but could not overcome a sack by Big Green defensive tackle Cody Fulleton (’16). An incomplete pass on 4th and 13 sealed a thrilling win for the Big Green.

24-21 was the final score; although the defense played well for the most part, the offense still needs to find balance or at least an identity. This was evident when the offense stalled in the fourth quarter and could not run out the clock after recovering the onside kick. The run game improved tremendously as Dartmouth ran for 196 yards on the day (compared to a mere 46 against Yale last week), but the passing game wasn’t as sharp. Coming off career highs in completions (32) and yards (388), Dalyn Williams finished the day 15-23 for 156 yards and two touchdowns and ran 14 times for 64 yards. Though one could claim that the pressure from the Crusade defenders prevented Williams from getting into a rhythm, he still needs to differentiate between when to run and when to throw. There were times where he scrambled prematurely and although he gained yards, bigger plays could’ve been made. A bad throw almost led to an interception, which was fortunately called back due to a holding penalty. On the plus side, he still has the ever reliable Ryan McManus ’15, who led all receivers with eight catches, 89 yards, and a touchdown giving him 454 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

But, a win is a win, and that is especially huge on Homecoming. Moving forward, Dartmouth needs to improve on their offensive production if they hope to go toe to toe with the rest of the Ivy League. Fortunately they still have some time as they play Columbia (0-5, 0-2) before the big one against Harvard (5-0, 2-0) on November 1. (To put things in perspective, Harvard beat this same Holy Cross team 41-18 back in September). For now, the players, students, and alumni can savor this close win and enjoy the rest of Homecoming before getting back to work.