Indian Football Returns to Glory This Year

By Sterling Beard

The first decade of the new millennium was not kind to Indian football. From 2000-2009, the squad averaged a record of 2.1 wins per season and went winless in 2008. The program had just over half of its allotted slots filled. Attendance at games was abysmal. In 2004, then Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg wrote a letter to the president of Swarthmore College, applauding the elimination of the school’s football program, calling the sport and the surrounding culture “antithetical to the academic mission of colleges such as [Swarthmore and Dartmouth].” Considering the relative success of the previous decade when the program averaged 6.2 wins per season with an undefeated record and Ivy title in 1996, calling the last ten years disappointing might be an understatement.

This season has been different.

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Like senior WR Tanner Scott, fans of Indian football have a reason to celebrate.

As of this writing, the Indians sit at 2-3 in conference play and 5-3 overall, more than doubling the 2009 win total and one win away from topping  the best record of any Indian squad since 2003. While that may not seem to be a terribly impressive win-loss column at first glance, it’s important to remember that two of the losses were by a combined ten points. The Indians took Penn, the reigning Ivy champions, to overtime in their first Ivy game and lost to Yale the next week on an Eli field goal that ricocheted off the upright in the game’s waning seconds. If a handful of plays had gone differently, Dartmouth could be 7-2 right now.

There’s no question that this year’s gridiron gang is quite different from those in years past. One only has to look at the record to see that this squad has not dipped below the .500 mark all season. The team is producing points, currently ranking third in the Ivy League with a total of 23 offensive TDs (only four TDs behind Ivy leader Harvard), two punt return TDs and six field goals. Junior running back Nick Schwieger, the Monster from Massachusetts, has amassed nine touchdowns and 972 yards on 189 attempts, placing him first in the Ivy League in total rushing yards and first in yards per game at 134.6. Quarterback Conner Kempe ‘12 has thrown for an average of 180.5 yards per game and tossed eight TDs with a 113.7 QB rating while only getting sacked six times. Wideout Tim McManus ’11 leads the squad in receptions with 32 and Michael Reilly ‘12 has reeled in 21 catches to lead the team with 470 yards and three touchdowns.

The defense, while yielding an average of 375.2 yards per game, has been opportunistic and is tied with Yale for third in the Ivy League with nine interceptions. The pass rush is nothing to sneeze at, either; the Indians have sacked opposing QBs twenty-three times in just eight games.

Special teams have been nothing to sneeze at, either, especially in the return game. Shawn Abuhoff ’12 has been a lightning rod of a return man, taking two punts back to the end zone for touchdowns. He’s averaging 14.5 yards per punt return, sixth overall in FCS rankings, and has averaged 26.3 per kickoff return, which puts him at 23rd in the FCS. In the kicking game, three year starter Foley Schmidt ’12 is second on the Indian squad in total scoring with 43 points to his credit, 18 of which have come from field goals. Daniel Barstein ’14 has been averaging nearly forty yards per punt and senior Donald Kephart ‘11has sent kickoffs booming 64.1 yard on average.

The Indians have been a true second half team this year. While opponents have romped in the first two quarters, scoring 68 points in the first and 58 in the second, they’ve been held to 20 points in the third and 24 in the fourth. The Dartmouth offense usually takes a little to get going, but explodes in the third, piling up 72 points at the beginning of the second half and 62 in the fourth. Though one player admits that the slow starts have been, “a very troubling topic [for] the whole team,” he also credits the halftime adjustments the coaches make with turning the games around. Thanks to those adjustments, the Indians lead opponents in terms of points scored by ten, 205-177. That may not seem like a fantastic margin, but it’s a far cry from 2009 when Dartmouth’s opponents outscored our boys 282-161 over the entire season.

Attendance is up at the football games this year as well. While the team still isn’t getting nearly the support it deserves, fan enthusiasm has been measurably larger. Through four home games, the Indians have had a total home attendance of 26,043 for an average of 6,511 bodies in the stands. This already bests last year’s attendance record in terms of total attendance and average attendance (20,515 and 4,103 respectively).

This is a team that, while it hasn’t had spectacular success or a string of blowout victories, is full of grit and has found a way to win. Notably, each of the victories thus far have been come from behind efforts, a testament to the team’s resiliency. While the squads of yesteryear might have given up, this group of warriors refuses to stay down.

Nothing, however, illustrates the strength of this team quite like the beating they handed Cornell last week. After surrendering a seven point lead in the second quarter, the Indians came out of the locker room down by three. They proceeded to blast the Big Red for another twenty-one points in the second half. The defense held Cornell to the lowest yardage total by a Dartmouth opponent in thirteen years and recorded a staggering ten sacks. It was the first win in Ithaca for Dartmouth since the squad’s last Ivy title, 1996.

While much of the production this year has come from the ’12 class (Kempe, Schwieger, Abuhoff, Reilly, Schmidt, et al), the cupboard is hardly bare amongst the lower classes. The JV team is 2-2 against other junior varsity foes with a 28-0 shutout over Middlebury and a 24-7 stomping of Williams. The losses came in hard fought battles against Harvard, 17-7, and Bridgton Academy, 39-30. Plenty of talent sits amongst the ‘13s and ‘14s as well. Freshman QB Cole Marcoux grabbed headlines last year when he elected to attend Dartmouth. It’s not often that such a highly touted recruit and reality TV star chooses to make Hanover his home for four years, but we have him here on the hill anyway, a testament to head coach Buddy Teevens’ recruiting skill.

The two remaining games on the schedule see the Indians’ warpath wrap through Hanover in a home contest against the Bears of Brown (4-4) and then through Princeton against the hapless Tigers (1-7). Both games are winnable. The Bears are a terrible road squad with a 1-3 record away from Providence. In fact, their only victory came in a narrow contest against the aforementioned pussycats. While the Bears did beat Harvard, the team that handed the Indians a homecoming loss, they also lost to Holy Cross, a foe who resides, vanquished, under Dartmouth’s win column, and lost to the Quakers of Penn 24-7. They come into the game riding a two game losing streak thanks to Penn and Yale.

Common foes are, of course, quite dicey and not necessarily an indicator of how two teams will play each other, but the Indians should go into both contests with a good chance to win. The Tigers possess the worst record in the Ivy League right now and struggled in their only win, a double overtime win over Lafayette (2-7), a team that dropped its first six contests.

This is the first time in years that the football team has had this kind of success and they stand a good chance of finishing 7-3. With the talent amongst the underclassmen, there are signs that the current resurgence is just the beginning. Wah-hoo-wah!