After finishing the 2014 season with an 8-2 record and a second place league finish, the Big Green looked more poised than ever to meet and exceed the expectations 2015 held. Good news: the majority of the roster remained intact. Big contributors such as quarterback Dalyn Williams, running backs Kyle Bramble and Brian Grove, wide receiver Victor Williams, cornerbacks Vernon Harris and Chai Reece, linebacker Will McNamara, safety Troy Donahue, and many more returned for their senior seasons. The team was especially excited that leading receiver Ryan McManus was granted an extra season of eligibility after missing most of his junior season in 2013 with an injury. Everything seemed to be in place for a title run. One of the league’s high powered offenses and suffocating defense from 2014 did not miss a step.
For the first five games, the Big Green won by double digits and gave up only one touchdown in five of the first six games. Dalyn Williams was all bombs away, throwing for 1,471 yards, 13 touchdowns, and only one interception in those first five games. One of his best games came against Penn, where he went 23-25 for 336 yards and four touchdowns leading to a 41-20 win. He followed that performance in the 35-3 homecoming win with a dismantling of Yale, throwing for a career high 53 times for 435 yards and 4 touchdowns. The homecoming domination proved to be a huge turning point in the season. Memorial Field was filled to capacity and all Big Green fans believed that a championship was within reach.
Surprisingly enough, for the first half of the season, the Big Green was not at full strength. 2014’s leading receiver Ryan McManus and leading rusher Kyle Bramble were injured and missed a few of those five games. Head Coach Buddy Teevens, however, remained unfazed. “We try to recruit depth and that’s the one plus that we’ve had. We play a lot of people. You look at our defensive and offensive group and we spin people through for a number of reasons. One to keep people healthy and fresh and also to develop experience. But you need to have people you’re comfortable to put in to have a level of success. That’s the biggest thing.” Coach Teevens certainly had some great players step up this year. Speedy receiver Victor Williams easily took over the role as the go-to receiver. He blazed through defenses to the tune of 592 yards and 3 touchdowns including a career high 213 yards in the win against Penn. In the backfield, senior Brian Grove and sophomore Ryder Stone split carries to lead a potent running game that accumulated 342 yards and 7 touchdowns between the two.
In the second half of the season, however the offense lost a little of their mojo. Penalties began to kill drives and stall production. In the Columbia game, Dartmouth accounted for 17 penalties for 161 yards. Dalyn Williams had a solid game, going 20-34 for 235 yards, but only one touchdown. As a team, the Big Green ran for only 90 yards and had 325 total yards of offense. The game was won, but a sloppy 13-9 win wasn’t very encouraging right before going up against then-15th-ranked Harvard. Fortunately, the defense was nothing short of intimidating. Prior to Harvard, Dartmouth’s defensive unit had given up a mere 255 yards per game and forced an astounding 15 turnovers. Led by senior middle linebacker Will McNamara, the Big Green defense gave up no more than one touchdown in five of those first six games. Despite the poor offensive showing prior, Dartmouth felt confident and energetic going into Harvard Stadium for a clash of titans.
During the week Dartmouth was ranked 23rd in the FCS rankings (the first time since the 1996 championship season). Programming Board and Greek houses organized fan buses to travel to Boston (which ultimately resulted in more green than crimson at Harvard Stadium). The stage was set, and the battle was fierce. The Big Green defense smothered the Crimson and shut them out for the first half. Will McNamara tallied 14 total tackles and two critical interceptions. Dartmouth disrupted Harvard’s backfield all game as five different players had tackles for loss (TFLs), including senior nose tackle A.J. Zuttah and outside linebacker Folarin Orimolade. Although the offense struggled against the Crimson defense as well, Dartmouth was still able to gain a 13-0 lead. The lead would have been 17-0 had Victor Williams not dropped a surefire touchdown pass from Ryan McManus on a trick play. So, they settled on an Alex Gakenheimer field goal instead. Fortunately, the Dartmouth defense came through with a huge goal line stand midway through the fourth quarter. Sadly fatigue and a bit of sheer luck were starting to go against the Big Green. Facing a 4th and 12, Crimson quarterback Scott Hosch heaved up a prayer that was answered, landing in the arms of receiver Seitu Smith for a touchdown. The score became 13-7. More bad luck hit Dartmouth as Ryder Stone fumbled on the 50 yard line giving Harvard new life with 2:54 left in the game. The Crimson scored and made the extra point capturing the lead at 14-13. Coach Teevens refused to go down without a fight. Big passes to Victor Williams and Ryan McManus put Dartmouth in Harvard territory. However, too much time ticked off the clock and the offense could not advance the ball much further. With one second left, Alex Gakenheimer had a chance to win the game with a 46 yard field goal from the right hash. The Football Gods weren’t smiling down on him, however, as the kick was blocked and Dartmouth suffered its first loss of the season. Coach Teevens, like the entire Big Green contingent, was devastated. “This was a real disappointment. I thought we outplayed them. We just had a couple mistakes in critical situations and it ended up costing us. It was two very well developed football teams and programs. The people who made the least mistakes were probably going to have success. Unfortunately it was 14-13 Harvard. This game was very physical, up and down. That goal line stand will go down as one of the best in Dartmouth football history. But we hope to complete the season.”
Despite the loss, there was still some optimism in the air. If Dartmouth wins out and Harvard loses a game, Dartmouth could still win the Ivy League. Next up was 0-8 Cornell. Theoretically, the Big Green should have run away with the game, but the penalty bug reared its ugly head again. Dartmouth committed 15 penalties for 118 yards, preventing the offense from generating any good rhythm. The team won 21-3, but mainly due to the stoutness of the defense. Nine players accounted for six TFLs and defensive backs Danny McManus and Colin Boit hauled in two picks. The offense appeared to be back on track at Brown the next week. By the fourth quarter Dartmouth jumped out to a 34-6 lead. However, the strong winds in the stadium made passing nearly impossible. Dalyn Williams had his worst game of the season, finishing 11-22 for a mere 110 yards and 3 interceptions. Fortunately, the Big Green had the run game to pick up the slack. Kyle Bramble ran 17 times for 93 yards and a score. Brian Grove added 8 carries for 91 yards and score. Ryder Stone also contributed a score. The team finished with 171 yards rushing. The most glaring aspect of the game, however, was the turnovers. Both teams accounted for 13 total turnovers and overall had a bizarre game. Dartmouth fumbled twice near their own end zone and essentially gave Brown 12 free points. Dartmouth still won 34-18, but the biggest news was that Harvard lost to Penn that same week.
Now Dartmouth, Harvard, and Penn were in a three-way tie for first place in the Ivy League. The task was simple (so to speak): win the last game of the season to win the Ivy League Championship. However, the prospects looked a bit darker. Dartmouth had committed 6 turnovers against Brown and 15 penalties the week before against Cornell. The team needed to refocus and get their act together. But, calm, cool, and collected Coach Teevens had all the faith in the world in his team. “We had some turnovers which we’ve been very good with protecting the football. We don’t fumble a lot and we’re up in the top of the league in terms of turnover margin and whatnot. But six turnovers? We haven’t and can’t do that. So what do you do? You just address it. It was kind of an aberration. It hadn’t happened to us all year and then it did. The penalty situation, that’s been a concern. Aggressive penalties, I’m okay with. There may be a hold on occasion. Those things happen. But some of the foolish ones and self-inflicted procedures like lining off-sides and some of those things are just concentration. You preach against that. I’d like to finish the season clean with no penalties and turnovers. That’d be nice.”
November 21st, 2016. It was high noon and a little chilly from the wind. The Princeton Tigers arrived in all whites and a rip-off Michigan helmet while Dartmouth came out in their new black alternate jerseys. A championship was on the line, and the Tigers were not going to roll over. Both defenses were stout in the first quarter forcing a combined five turnovers. Neither side could capitalize as Princeton punted and Dartmouth missed field goals. The tie was finally broken by a Princeton touchdown early second quarter. For some reason, the Big Green could not contain receiver Seth DeValve all game. DeValve ultimately caught nine balls for 110 yards and contributed on key third downs. The first half ended with a Princeton 7-0 lead. The rest of the game was set to be an uphill battle, as Dartmouth had not trailed for more than ten minutes all season. Coach Teevens made some great adjustments as the Big Green scored on their first possession of the half on a 32-yard Ryder Stone run. Both teams traded field goals, tying the game up at 10 apiece midway through the fourth quarter. Like they had been doing all season, the defense came through and kept Dartmouth in the game. Big sacks by A.J. Zuttah and senior defensive end Cody Fulleton forced key Princeton punts, while senior safety David Caldwell snagged his fifth interception of the season.
Dartmouth’s final drive started on its own 37 with 2:01 left in the game. Not a single third down was needed as Dalyn Williams dinked and dunked his way into Princeton territory. First and ten at the 12 with 31 seconds left, Princeton brought the house on a blitz. Luckily, the offense saw it coming from a mile away. Dalyn dumped the pass off to Kyle Bramble on a screen play and he took it in for the touchdown with 24 seconds left to play. Dartmouth led 17-10 and ultimately won their 18th Ivy League Championship (most in Ivy League history)! News later hit that Harvard and Penn won their games as well, making it a three-way championship. That fact didn’t matter to Coach Teevens that much. “The league won’t allow playoff football, so it is what it is. You play to win the title and obviously you want to win it outright. But to have a piece of it. In the minds of the League, hey, you won the title. So, when they talk years to come, and people ask hey how did your team do or did you when the title, nobody says ‘hey how many people did you tie it with or who else did you share it with’. We’re title winners, and I’m content with that.”
The 2015 championship season also garnered many awards and statistical milestones for Dartmouth Football. Dalyn Williams finished the year with 2,592 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. He also ran for 225 yards and 5 touchdowns. Williams will finish his career with 8,952 yards of total offense, surpassing former NFL quarterback Jay Fielder. Sophomore running back Ryder Stone led the team with 375 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown (the first since 2010). Senior backs Kyle Bramble and Brian Grove contributed greatly combining for 667 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns. Receiver Victor Williams led the team with 64 receptions, 845 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Despite being injured, Ryan McManus still finished second on the team with 47 catches, 598 yards, and a touchdown. Wideout Houston Brown and tight end Cameron Skaff also tied for the lead in TDs with 4 each. Dartmouth finished the year fourth in the league in total offense with 410.3 yards/game and fourth in scoring with 28.8 points/game. Defensively, Dartmouth completely dominated. The Big Green finished with the top defense in the league allowing a mere 277.7 yards/game and only 10.1 points/game. Will McNamara led the team with 69 total tackles and second on the team with 4 interceptions. David Caldwell posted similar numbers with 5 interceptions and 57 tackles. Folarin Orimolade led the team with 8 sacks. Next was Cody Fulleton with 4.5 and A.J. Zuttah with 3.5 sacks. Senior corners Vernon Harris and Chai Reece had great seasons as well, combining for 8 pass breakups and 10 passes defended. Overall, 18 players earned All-Ivy Honors with eight appearing on the first team. Six of those eight first teamers were defensive players, including defensive tackle A.J. Zuttah, middle linebacker Will McNamara, cornerback Vernon Harris (all unanimous selections), defensive end Cody Fulleton, outside linebacker Folarin Orimolade, and free safety David Caldwell. Offensively, receiver Ryan McManus and center Jacob Flores also made first team. Seven players made the second team: right tackle Niko Mamula, quarterback Dalyn Williams, middle linebacker Zach Slafsky, strong safety Troy Donahue, punter Ben Kepley, and Ryan McManus again as a return specialist. Three more players were honorable mentions: defensive end Sawyer Whalen, outside linebacker Eric Wickham, and cornerback Chai Reece. A.J. Zuttah, Jacob Flores, Vernon Harris, and Will McNamara were all named to the All-New England team. Coach Buddy Teevens was named Regional Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and the New England Football Writers’ Association (NEFWA). In the final tally, Dartmouth finished 23rd overall in the Football Championship Series (FCS) poll.
Now that the season is over, it is time to look ahead. Coach Teevens has quite the challenge ahead of him, as he has to replace multiple seniors who manned starting positions. He is losing seven starters on offense and 11 starters on defense. He will have to reload and rebuild to remain competitive in 2016. Somehow though, Coach Teevens remains confident. Over the years, Dartmouth has provided him with some newer and more advanced facilities. “We have more to show. The field surface which used to be old grass which historical wasn’t very good. We got field turf surface now. They just redid the home stands, the visiting stands. Seven years ago we got the Floren Varsity House with a weight room we never had before. We have meeting rooms we never had before and an academic support area we never had before. Coaches offices. We have lights so we can play night games. We signed a tremendous deal with Nike. We have equipment we can do more with. With the 17-, 18-, 19-year-old young men we are recruiting, they come and say ‘Wow, this is a major college program.’”
The staff has also implemented new modern and safer technology into practice. The coaches have begun implementing the oculus rift virtual reality goggles to simulate plays and drills. However, the most prominent attention grabber was the MVP (Mobile Virtual Player). The MVP is essentially a remote control tackle dummy that helps reduce the amount of concussions suffered on the practice field. The invention was so innovative, Coach Teevens was invited to appear on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, also presumably upping his “coolness factor” among recruits. The staff has been able to greatly upgrade the talent pool to have success in the league. Thanks to the great recruiting efforts and the success on the field. These gradual developments have made Dartmouth more than just an academic institution. The culture that Coach Teevens has constructed at Dartmouth values not only the talent of the player, but their people skills and intelligence. “People look at us and say, ‘Wow Dartmouth is a number one school in football and number one in terms of graduation rate. Man, it’s an Ivy institution with world class intellects and the football team is in that group while playing pretty physical and successful football. That’s where we’d like to be. We’ve got a number of engineers and pre-med kids with high 3.0’s, with 3.5’s, 3.6’s, 3.7’s in GPA. Our team GPA has been over 3.0 for the past 11 years. I want great players who are intellectuals at all times and great guy at all times. When people see my players, my kids, they say ‘Oh he’s in my class. Pretty cool dude.’ If you expect excellence and you preach and prod that and encourage that, you get what you ask for. I think that’s where we are right now.”
Coach Teevens is not joking when he said his players are stars on the field and academic whizzes off the field. He has 14 players who are economics majors including quarterback Dalyn Williams, linebacker Flo Orimolade, nickel corner Frankie Hernandez, defensive tackle A.J. Zuttah, and kicker Alex Gakenheimer. Running backs Brian Grove and Kyle Bramble, along with corner Vernon Harris, lineman Dave Morrison, and receiver Joseph Cook are all engineers with Bramble finishing his degree in four years instead of the usual five. With the growing popularity in Dartmouth football among recruits and students, it seems Coach Teevens has got the workings of a powerhouse now. Though 2016 has a bit of uncertainty, having great recruiting, great facilities, and a great fan base lead to a great team. It’s time to chase championship number 19.