Football starts season under the lights
With the sun setting over the West Stands of Memorial Field on Tuesday, the Dartmouth football team finished one of its final practices before the team’s season opener this weekend. After months of sweat and preparation, the team anticipated returning to the gridiron and is seeking to extend its four-year winning streak in season openers.
After finishing last season with a 6-4, 5-2 Ivy record that put them in third place in the Ivy League, the Big Green starts the season with its eyes on the program’s first league title since 1996.
“This year we’re more composed, more confident and poised and ready for a chase at this title,” quarterback Dalyn Williams ’16 said.
Six seasons removed from a winless campaign, the team has built itself into one of the strongest contenders in the Ivy League, finishing third in the annual pre-season media poll.
The team is led by Williams, who established himself as one of the Ivy League’s premier dual-threat signal callers and earned All-Ivy honorable mention in his second season in Hanover after taking the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award in his first campaign.
Williams completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,773 yards and 11 touchdowns in addition to over 700 yards on the ground and five rushing scores. Halfway through his Dartmouth career, the junior is already seventh on Dartmouth’s all-time total offense list.
The team will miss the presence of running back Dominick Pierre ’14, who had the second-highest total of rushing yards of any Dartmouth player in his career.
A stable of young backs including the duo of Kyle Bramble ’16 and Brian Grove ’16, who both got significant touches last season but missed spring practice due to injury, will hope to replace the workhorse Pierre. Head coach Buddy Teevens said that their absence from spring practice allowed other players, like Abrm McQuarters ’17 and Jacob Siwicki ’17, to get additional practice, building depth.
On the defensive side, the team is missing last season’s top three tacklers, who formed the core of the unit that allowed the fewest points and the second-fewest pass yards in the Ivy League last year.
But Teevens suggested that the team’s depth has improved over the past few seasons — players like co-captain Stephen Dazzo ’15, who have game experience, are ready to fill in.
“I think those guys mentored a lot of the young guys very well,” Teevens said. “[Garrett Waggoner ’13] and Dazzo. They’re physically very similar. Good size, good speed, good athleticism.”
Special teams were also a critical part of last season, with the team coming up short in a few games due to field goal miscues. This year, Alex Gakenheimer ’17 will start by kicking field goals and extra points while the veteran Riley Lyons ’15 will handle the kickoffs.
Dazzo, Williams and Teevens said putting all phases of the game together is the key to success.
“We get after people, and we’re really excited to get going and hit people and play our type of football, so that’s something that we’ll carry over from last season,” Dazzo said.
The Big Green open the season this weekend under the lights against Central Connecticut State University, who are coming off last weekend’s 20-7 loss to the College of the Holy Cross.
Dazzo noted that the Blue Devils are led by senior running back Rob Hollomon, who impressed with a 161-yard performance in the team’s first game of the season.
The Big Green faces an uphill climb against a team that already has three games under its belt, but Dazzo suggested the advantage can go both ways as Dartmouth has more film to watch and prepare.
“We know a little more about them than they know about us because we haven’t played,” Dazzo said. “But they’re probably a little more comfortable together, playing, tackling, being in live situations.”
This is the two teams’ first ever meeting, which can complicate preparations for the game, Teevens said.
“They’re a scholarship football program so they have good players,” he said.
The game will take place under the lights at Memorial Field, an experience that Williams enjoys and remembers from high school in Texas when he often played at night in front of thousands of fans, he said.
At the end of the day, it comes down to what happens on the field.
“We’ve got something to prove,” Teevens said. “We talk about progress, but let’s prove how good of a football team we are by how we play.”