Big Green to take on Harvard Saturday in battle of Ivy titans

by Brett Drucker | 10/30/14 6:23pm

On Nov. 1, 1997, Dartmouth’s starting quarterback Dalyn Williams ’16 was 3 years old. Days earlier, the five-year-old Florida Marlins defeated the Cleveland Indians 3-2 in an 11-inning classic to win the World Series in seven games.

That Saturday in Hanover was also the last meeting between Harvard and Dartmouth as undefeated football teams, and was the last time the Big Green opened a season 3-0 in the Ivy League. The game ended in a 24-0 Crimson victory and ended Dartmouth’s bid for back-to-back league titles.

This weekend, the two teams will meet on the gridiron of Memorial Field with matching 3-0 league records as the only two remaining undefeated teams in the Ancient Eight, each looking to take control of the chase for the Ivy League title.

Unlike in 1997, this time, it is the Crimson who has seen recent glory, winning seven League championships over the past 16 years including a co-championship shared with Princeton last year. The Crimson has also dominated Dartmouth in recent years, winning all but one of the teams’ clashes since 1996.

The Big Green, on the other hand, is on the upswing just six years removed from a winless season and is looking to capture the school’s first Ivy title since 1996.

Dartmouth enters the game riding its first four-game winning streak in a season since 2003, after defeating Columbia last weekend in a 27-7 contest that the Big Green controlled from start to finish.

Williams was given the day off against the Lions (0-6, 0-3 Ivy) to rehab an AC sprain, and the team was led by Alex Park ’14.

“I think it was fun to look at the game from a different lens,” Williams said. “Playing football, you always see the game from your perspective, you see the field like you always see it, it’s repetitive. It was good to be on the outside and see different little aspects of the game that I can’t see from behind the line of scrimmage.”

Linebacker Will McNamara ’16, who leads the league with 10.8 tackles per game (more than two more per game than the second ranked player,), was named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts at Columbia, which included 11 tackles and a game-sealing interception.

The Crimson comes into the matchup fresh off a 49-7 thrashing of Princeton in New Jersey.

Harvard entered last weekend’s game looking to avenge last season’s triple-overtime loss to the Tigers and did so in dominant style, exploding for 49 points before Princeton first got on the board with 28 seconds remaining in the game.

The Crimson was led by quarterback Conner Hempel, who returned after a four-game absence due to injury and threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns against the Tigers in addition to 52 yards on the ground and two rushing scores.

When faced with the challenge of defending such a prolific attack, the Big Green will have to focus on the details, co-captain and safety Stephen Dazzo ’15 said.

“Making sure you’re in the right spot, doing your job and trusting the guys around you are going to do theirs,” he said. “That’s really what football comes down to, 11 guys acting as one.”

Williams and head coach Buddy Teevens said that the best defense may be a good offense and that the team is focused on maintaining possession to keep the ball out of Harvard’s hands.

“I would say, ‘Stay on the field’, that’s the number one thing,” Williams said. “We’ve got to come out fast, control the ball and execute.”

Harvard also boasts the Ivy League’s strongest defense, surrendering an average of a paltry 10.5 points per game and leading the league in fewest pass and rush yards allowed per game.

One of the most dangerous threats from the Crimson defense is defensive end Zack Hodges, whose speed and power rushing from the outside have contributed to his league-leading 5.5 sacks on the season.

“He’s a good player,” Williams said. “He’s going to dictate how we protect and that’s because of his talent. And it’s necessary to do that because if you’re not doing that, you’re not being smart.”

Last year, the teams met in Cambridge, and the Crimson escaped with a 24-21 victory on a 23-yard field goal with less than a minute to go in the game.

This year, the game serves as another measuring stick for how far the Big Green has come, moving from the league’s cellar to contention at the top, Teevens said.

“You’re never completely satisfied, you’re always looking for more,” Teevens said. “These days the expectation of success is really there. When you get people in the right frame of mind, good things happen.”

This weekend, days after a 3-2 gem saw the San Francisco Giants defeat the Kansas City Royals in Game 7 of the World Series, history could repeat itself as Harvard and Dartmouth meet again for Ivy League supremacy.

“It’s going to be a great environment, great atmosphere,” Dazzo said. “We’re pumped. The stage is set. This is where we said we wanted to be. We’ve put ourselves in the position to play in this game and now it’s about bringing it all together and getting the ‘W.’”

The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Memorial Field and will be broadcast locally on NBC Sports affiliates. Follow @thedsports for live coverage of the game.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended (Nov. 1, 2014):

The Big Green will play Harvard on Saturday, not Friday, as the headline originally indicated.