Despite second-half rally, Dartmouth falls to undefeated Columbia University 22-17

by Jake Philhower | 10/23/17 2:25am

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by Tiffany Zhai / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

It was an afternoon filled with frustration and untimely mistakes for the Big Green against Columbia University at Memorial Field on Saturday. Despite mounting a strong comeback in the latter half, Dartmouth fell to the Lions, 22-17, in a matchup that came down to clock management and officiating. With its perfect record tarnished, the Big Green no longer controls its destiny in the Ivy League Championship race.

Dartmouth has struggled throughout the season with playing its best football in the first half of games. The Big Green have taken a lead into halftime only twice this year and had faced severe deficits at halftime in the last two games prior to Saturday’s matchup. First half play was clearly an area where Dartmouth needed to improve. 

This Saturday, however, the Big Green were shut out in the first half while Columbia was able to put up 16 unanswered points on the board. Dartmouth had possession for 10:44 the entire first half and was repeatedly unsuccessful in stringing first downs together to piece together a drive. Everything that could have gone wrong did for the Big Green as David Smith ’18 missed a 21-yard field goal with two seconds left in the first half.

“It happened again,” linebacker Eric Meile ’18 said. “We need to just come out and play fast, but the one thing that I love about this team is we never quit.” 

Though the team is confident in its second half play, the Big Green underperformed in the first. Without Heneghan’s two scrambles for 24 yards, the backfield only produced 25 yards on 7 rushes in the first half. The shortcomings in the run game limited Dartmouth’s ability to string together first downs.

The defense came out with a strong start in the second half, forcing a three-and-out and getting the ball back to the offense quickly. Quarterback Jack Heneghan ’18 threw a strike to tight end Stephen Johnston ’18, who ran a seam route nearly uncovered down to the seven-yard line. Two plays later, Jared Gerbino ’20 delivered a one-yard touchdown run to put the Big Green on the board early in the second half. 

The offense looked sharp on the drive as the coaching staff appeared to go after Columbia with more aggressive play-calling. Heneghan served as a rushing threat in the second half, opening up receivers who were being covered by linebackers stuck between defending the run and the pass. The Big Green offense has a lot of firepower, with a strong quarterback and an array of weapons successful in both screen play and route running.

Finally, with 6:57 left in the game, Heneghan broke through with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Drew Estrada ’20, pulling the Big Green within one possession for the first time since midway through the second quarter. The defense then delivered yet again, forcing a three-and-out and getting the ball back in Heneghan’s hands with 5:18 left in the game. Dartmouth was able to orchestrate a drive with several key first down completions. However, after a false start penalty on first down and a key offensive pass interference call on third down, Heneghan had two incomplete passes on third- and fourth-and-goal from the Columbia 27-yard line, resulting in a turnover on downs.

The Dartmouth defense had to make a stop, and quickly, to give the offense any sort of chance to win the game. After a key illegal block penalty on Columbia on second down, it seemed likely that the defense had another three-and-out in them. After a four-yard Lions rush on second-and-18, however, Teevens waiting several seconds before calling his second timeout, costing the Big Green precious time.

“I screwed that up,” Teevens said of the delay. “With six or eight seconds more at the end, maybe we could have gotten another play off.”

With 58 seconds left in the game, the Big Green got the ball back once more, giving the offense one last chance to deliver a decisive score. Having exhausted all of its timeouts in order to preserve time for the last drive, however, the Big Green had to operate with no timeouts. Dartmouth was both productive and fortunate, driving the ball down the field efficiently with consecutive first down completions followed by as a 15-yard scramble by Heneghan. With 17 seconds left in the game on the Columbia seven-yard line, disaster struck. Columbia dialed up a blitz on first-and-goal, resulting in a sack for a loss of 10 yards. With no timeouts to call, the sack caused mayhem on the field as the officials and Dartmouth offense scrambled to reset and get another snap off before the end of the game. However, the ball appeared to be mishandled as officials attempted to reset, resulting in time expiring before Dartmouth could run another play.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened,” Johnston said. “It was pretty chaotic but it was out of my hands and we never stopped fighting, so that’s all we can really ask for.”

Coaches and players alike appeared thoroughly upset on the field by the way the game ended. 

Looking forward, every game is a must win for the Big Green. For Dartmouth to have a shot at being the sole winners of the Ivy League title, the Big Green would have to win the rest of its games and Columbia would have to sustain two losses. Additionally, Cornell University, Princeton University and Yale University would all have to lose at least one game. Columbia has two tough opponents in Harvard and Yale in the next two weeks. But for Dartmouth, the game-by-game mentality is crucial as the team travels to Cambridge and attempts to bounce back from this week’s defeat.

“We have four more games and we have to play well,” Teevens said during the post-game press conference. “If you win out, you get a chance.”

Dartmouth will need to snap Harvard’s 13-game win streak in the series to keep its Ivy League title hopes alive. Harvard is off to a 3-3 start and is 1-2 in conference play after a 52-17 loss against Princeton. The Big Green can still give Columbia a run for its money in the Ivy League championship race, but the team must address its poor first half performances.