Dartmouth takes down Brown 34-18, back in Ivy League title hunt after Harvard loses

by Alexander Agadjanian | 11/15/15 6:01pm

Playing in windy, frigid and generally disorienting conditions on an unusual grass surface in Providence, Rhode Island, the football team faced several obstacles on Saturday that detracted from its typically efficient and stable character. Nevertheless, the No. 23 Big Green (8-1, 5-1 Ivy) grew an early lead and finished with a 34-18 defeat of Brown University (4-5, 2-4 Ivy), emerging from a sloppy game that contained 13 combined turnovers, four failed extra point attempts and uncharacteristically poor passing performances by both teams.

Ostensibly, there was hardly anything special about Dartmouth’s victory, beyond it being the Big Green’s eighth on the year. At the same time 41 miles north, though, the lucky break that Dartmouth had yearned for was materializing in the same place it had last suffered a defeat. Ever since a crushing last-minute loss at Harvard University three weeks ago — a seemingly season-defining moment — the Big Green was left to only hope for a victory from one of the Crimson’s three final opponents for a shot at the Ivy League crown.

As last Saturday afternoon progressed, the University of Pennsylvania — cruising into Harvard on a four-game win streak — had the Crimson on its heels early, jumping out to a 21-6 lead after a quarter of play. Though the Crimson grabbed a lead by halftime, the Quakers sprung back ahead in the final half to go ahead 35-25 and ultimately win the game, snapping Harvard’s 22-game win streak and undefeated conference record.

The responses vary depending on which player or coach you ask, but Dartmouth — for almost the entirety of its game — had no knowledge of the monumental events developing in Cambridge, Massachussetts.

Cornerback Vernon Harris ’16 said he had no idea until there were only about 10 seconds left in the game when the team was taking a knee and someone mentioned the Crimson results.

“I didn’t know until the crowd started cheering,” running back Brian Grove ’16 added.

Head coach Buddy Teevens — who had positioned the team’s 2015 season to be its strongest possibly in decades — intentionally wanted to tune out anything unrelated to the match at hand.

“I had no idea, I just was oblivious to it,” Teevens said about Harvard’s loss. “I just [thought], ‘Hey, can we win this game?’ the way things were going [with the turnovers]. I’d rather not know [the other score]. The birth of our children — I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to count parts when they came out.”

As the final seconds on Saturday ticked away and the Big Green players came together to sing their alma mater as they do after every game, the team — before it could finish — erupted into unbridled jubilation, which followed them as they headed back to the locker room and almost certainly continued on their ride back to Hanover. Needing only a win against Princeton University (5-4, 2-4 Ivy) next week in its home finale, Dartmouth — now tied atop the conference standings with Penn and Harvard — will have a renewed opportunity to win at least a share of the Ivy League championship, its first since 1996.

“It was fun just to see the enthusiasm of the stands and also of my players,” Teevens said. “It was nuts in the locker room after. As hard as they’ve worked for as long as they’ve worked... We’ve played well, and to have a second chance is really special. It doesn’t happen in life too often.”

Harris, a key part of the team’s defensive secondary, also happened to have the game’s first big play, opening the turnover floodgates. On Brown’s first play from scrimmage, a trick play had Bears quarterback Marcus Fuller throw a pass to the right sideline to receiver Alex Jette, who then fired a misplaced ball that Harris easily snatched up for the interception.

“It was very surreal,” Harris said. “We went out there and played our best, and in the end we got a stroke of luck.”After forcing a three-and-out on the Bears’ next possession, the Dartmouth defense resumed its turnover-inducing ways in Brown’s third possession. Poised to be Brown’s best offensive play at the time, Bears running back Johnny Pena found an opening up the middle but Big Green linebacker Lucas Bavaro ’17 forced the ball out on a crunching hit, recovered by teammate Zach Slafsky ’16.

On the other side of the football, Dartmouth’s normally stout passing attack struggled to come into form. Quarterback Dalyn Williams ’16 had a clear disconnect with his receivers — possibly hampered by the wind — with four early incompletions on his first four pass attempts and fumbled the ball on a sack that he was able to recoup.

Yet in a parallel pattern to the prior week and to a greater degree, the three-pronged Big Green run game thrived early on and throughout Saturday afternoon. The sack ended a drive in which Kyle Bramble ’16 ripped off powerful runs of 13 and 19 yards. In the first play of Dartmouth’s next possession immediately following a Brown turnover, Brian Grove burst through a gaping hole up the middle untouched and then sped down the left sideline for 61 yards and the opening score.

Adding to an already electric sequence of events for Dartmouth, Brown fumbled the football on the ensuing kickoff, gifting Dartmouth the ball back at Brown’s 19-yard line. Ryder Stone ’18 — the final piece of the Big Green’s rushing triumvirate — led the offense in covering the short field, needing only three carries to foster a 14-0 Dartmouth lead, capped by an easy nine-yard touchdown run with three minutes left to play in the first quarter.

The stream of opening quarter turnovers did not end there. After throwing for a first down to commence Brown’s next drive, Bears quarterback Fuller fired a pass to the right sideline that got batted into the air, and Harris was able to track it down for his second pick of the game, returning the ball inside Brown’s 25.

With four giveaways in the first 14 minutes of the game by the Bears, the game’s volatile nature then punished the visitors. After a screen play went for 23 yards, Williams flung a pass too high for Ryan McManus ’15, which was tipped in the air and brought down by Brown’s Quintin Rizek in the end zone.

On its second drive of the second quarter, Brown moved the ball well and strung together a series of first down conversions. Brought in to bolster the running game, backup Bears quarterback Kyle Moreno quickly covered 30 yards on the ground to enter Dartmouth territory. Brown running back Seth Rosenbauer pummeled his way for a five-yard score two minutes before the first half’s conclusion. A.J. Zuttah ’16, however, blocked the Bears extra point attempt to keep Dartmouth’s lead at 14-6.

The Big Green offense did not have to step on the field before Dartmouth struck back. Scoring his second all-purpose touchdown on the day, Stone weaved his way through Brown’s kickoff coverage and sprinted down the left sideline for an 89-yard kickoff return touchdown to give Dartmouth a 15-point lead heading into the break.

Seconds before halftime, Brown received a chance to put more points on the scoreboard after pouncing on a McManus fumble off a punt return. In what was symbolic for the half and the entire game, the Bears failed to capitalize on the opportunity, missing on a pass attempt and then sending a field goal attempt wide right.

Starting the second half with the ball, Brown prolonged its troublesome habits. After netting a first down, Rosenbauer took a short pass for 18 yards before dropping the ball that Will Konstant ’16 fell on at Brown’s 42-yard line. A few plays later on offense facing a fourth and 20, Williams perfectly fitted a pass down the middle to Houston Brown ’17 for the 24-yard touchdown. A bobbled extra point hold left the score at 27-6.

Keeping with the spirit of the game, both sides then traded interceptions, notably Williams’ second on the day. Soon after, Bramble added a score of his own on the ground after catching and running for 37 yards, culminating with a two-yard touchdown rush, as Dartmouth pulled ahead for its greatest lead of the game at 34-6.

A last gasp push by the home team made the score line closer as the fourth quarter wound down, taking advantage of multiple Big Green miscues. Following an interception by Bavaro, Dartmouth turned the ball over in three of its final four possessions of the game, composed of an intercepted Williams pass batted up at the line of scrimmage, a botched handoff to Stone who got credited for the mistake and a bobbled snap that fell back into the end zone recovered by Brown for the touchdown. The frequent turnarounds opened up the game for two late Brown touchdowns, but the Bears missed the extra point on each, and the score still stood at 34-18.

For the second straight game, the Dartmouth running game excelled in the process of contributing three touchdowns, with Grove and Bramble each reaching at least 90 yards. Instrumental to this effort, the offensive line paved the way in creating numerous, advantageous running lanes for the backs.

“With the wind as well, we just thought let’s be somewhat conservative with it,” Teevens said. “We thought the matchups would be good. We saw a lot of pressure, and it was kind of hit or miss. They got a couple, and also we popped a few as well. When you play against that type of defensive approach, that’s going to happen.”

On the other hand, the air attack had one of its poorest showings of the year, though its out-of-sync quality had little bearing on the result in the end. Williams went 11-22 for 110 yards and a career-high three interceptions on the afternoon along with getting sacked three times. Understandably, the windy atmosphere played a significant factor in this aspect of the offense.

“It was a heavy wind, so half the game you’re throwing against [it],” Teevens said. “Couple that with the grass, we were not used to the grass situation… It’s just different. We had a couple of slips, could have been completions, but the ball sailed a little bit. It was tough on both sides, the ball would take off on you.”

In addition to those three picks, Dartmouth also lost another three fumbles, making for an erratic flow to the game.

“It was weird,” Teevens said. “It happened so frequently and so unexpectedly. We’re very secure with the ball, and to have three turnovers and they’re all exchange-generated — snap [or] handoff — we just haven’t done that. We don’t throw interceptions either, and we threw [three] of them today. It just kept happening.”

The Big Green will now head home and close out the 2015 season this Saturday against Princeton at 12 p.m., with a chance at a three-way split of the Ivy League crown.