Football comes from behind for season-opening victory
Saturday under the lights, for the first time since a snowy November night, the gridiron came alive in Hanover.
In a back-and-forth game, Dartmouth defeated the visiting Central Connecticut State University Blue Devils 35-25, thanks in large part to a mid-game run of 28 points.
Despite falling behind the Blue Devils (1-3) in many statistical categories including total offense and time of possession, Dartmouth (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) rolled to its fifth consecutive season-opening victory on the back of a balanced offense and a defense that stood to the challenge in the red zone after a sloppy first half. Before this streak, the Big Green had dropped four of five season openers.
“I think for the first half we kind of had the first game jitters,” wide receiver Ryan McManus ’15 said. “As time went on, I think we picked up our rhythm and got into doing things the way we practiced and wanted them to go.”
After deferring the coin toss and kicking off to start the game, the Dartmouth defense got out to a quick start, forcing a three and out on CCSU’s first possession of the game.
Taking over at the 45-yard line, the Big Green offense moved down the field methodically before Kyle Bramble ’16 took a screen pass from Dalyn Williams ’16 for 14 yards, following a pair of blockers. The junior running back hurdled over the last defender into the end zone to take a quick lead.
Williams, who is coming off the fourth most productive offensive season in Dartmouth history, was efficient for most of the night, completing 14 of 24 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns while adding 75 yards and a score on the ground.
“There was a poise, there was a confidence and he made a bunch of plays,” head coach Buddy Teevens said comparing Williams’s play to that of last season.
Bramble also impressed in his first game after off-season surgery, gaining 145 all-purpose yards for two touchdowns. In addition to being active in the screen game, Bramble had a few physical runs up the middle breaking tackles and dragging defenders, which contributed to his 5.2 yards per rush average on the game.
“It’s great to see him back,” Teevens said. “He ran harder yards for us.”
After getting on the board first, the Dartmouth offense stalled and CCSU began to take off, scoring a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Big Green defensive lineman Evan Chrustic ’15 blocked the extra point.
On the next Dartmouth possession, the Blue Devils forced a fumble, the only turnover of the game, from Williams at the Dartmouth 30 as the Big Green signal caller was stuck in the pocket unable to find a target and taken down from behind, leading to a quick CCSU score. CCSU missed the two point conversion, extending its lead to only 12-7.
The Blue Devils would break through again with 2:38 remaining in the second after an 81-yard touchdown march that took 6:16 off the clock and put them ahead 19-7. Time of possession was a problem for the Big Green throughout the game, as they only kept the ball for 22:23 compared to 37:37 for the visitors and didn’t have a single drive that lasted more than 3:15. The Blue Devils had six during the game.
“From an offensive standpoint, we just didn’t have enough snaps, especially in the first half,” Teevens said. “We’ve got to be more consistent and maximize drive opportunities.”
Kirby Schoenthaler ’15 returned the following kickoff to the 34, positioning the Big Green well on a crucial two-minute drill. Williams drove the team down the field in less than a minute and a half, completing passes to Bramble, Victor Williams ’16 and two to McManus that set up a two-yard Bramble touchdown run to bring Dartmouth within five heading into the break.
“One highlight was at the end of the half, the two minute operation,” Teevens said. “Going the distance, that was critical putting points on the board. It was well-executed and we could proceed from there in the second half.”
The team then took the momentum into the second half, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to build its lead and put the game out of reach.
The Big Green picked up where it left off and drove 75 yards for a score to open the third quarter. Williams’ 20-yard touchdown pass miraculously slipped through the hands of Blake Orvis ’17 at the two yard line into the waiting arms of Bo Patterson ’15 in the end zone.
The Blue Devils drove back to the Dartmouth 15, but were stifled when a field goal attempt was blocked by safety Troy Donahue ’15.
Williams threw a 19-yard touchdown on the following drive after an acrobatic catch from McManus in the corner of the end zone where the senior, who Teevens called “fearless,” barely managed to tap his right foot in play while coming down with the ball for the score.
McManus ended the game with 117 receiving yards, a career high. It was the second time in his Big Green career that he passed the 100-yard plateau. The senior, who missed eight games last season with a concussion, said he appreciated the opportunity to return to the field and contribute.
“It was pretty tough to watch on the sidelines [last year],” he said. “But I’ve been fortunate enough to be healthy and be able to come back this season and it’s been a great blessing for me to do so.”
The Big Green finished its scoring on a masterful 91-yard drive that began after the defense forced a turnover on downs in the red zone. The eight-play drive ended with a designed draw for Williams who scampered down the left sideline into the south end zone for the score just one play after a holding penalty had pushed the Big Green out of the red zone and threatened to stall their progress.
CCSU managed to score a late touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but Dartmouth held on for the win.
Overall, Teevens, who improved his career mark at Dartmouth in season openers to 7-8, cited the team’s maturity as a main factor in overcoming a tougher first half than expected.
“Guys rallied and played as a team, and I’m happy with the end result,” he said
Next week, the team heads to Durham to take one of last season’s FCS semi-finalists, No. 9 University of New Hampshire Wildcats.