Big Green come from behind to win again
More than 11,000 people piled into Memorial Stadium for Dartmouth's Homecoming showdown against the Harvard Crimson and by the time it was over, the vast majority of them had to scoop their jaws off the cold concrete bleachers.
With the Ivy League title riding on every snap, the Big Green and their Miracle Working quarteback, Jay Fiedler '94, played with the Granite of New Hampshire in their muscles and their nerve endings.
The hardest aspect of analyzing the football team's utterly ridiculous 39-34 win over Harvard on Saturday is trying to find some kind of pecking order in the amazing chain of events which carried Dartmouth from a 17-point deficit late in the third quarter to one of the greatest comebacks in program history.
There was Fiedler's 28-yard completion to Shearer on fourth-and-10 with less than two minutes to play and Dartmouth down, 28-25. On that play, Fiedler somehow eluded a crushing Crimson blitz and gunned a gorgeous strike to Shearer despite throwing off-balanced and off his wrong foot.
Then there was the next play, when Shearer burned his man and hauled down a 19-yard toss in the corner of the end zone to put Dartmouth on top, 32-28.
Or there was the Dartmouth defense, which after spending the entire afternoon thoroughly confused by Harvard's befuddling multi-flex offense, suddenly emerged for a string of huge stops that made Harvard go three-and-out on three of its last four possessions and forced a fumble on the other one.
It certainly couldn't have hurt that the signal caller running that offense was not the elusive Mike Giardi, who kept the defense guessing who had the ball, but rather Vin Ferrara, who filled in at field general after Giardi left with a minor concussion mid-way through the third quarter.
To add to the general confusion, Pete Oberle '96 -- who finished the day with 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns -- scored a touchdown on a 24-yard run with 1:08 to play that seemed more like an unintended accident -- Dartmouth was actually just trying to run out the clock.
Not to be outdone in the meaningless touchdown department, Harvard marched the length of the field in less than a minute for its only score of the fourth quarter.
Of course, there were also the two scoring drives that got Dartmouth back into the game after the Big Green trailed by as much as 28-11 with a minute to play in the third quarter.
The first drive -- all three plays of it -- featured a 21-yard scramble by Fiedler then a 34-yard touchdown pass to a double-covered Shearer in the end zone.
The second saw Fiedler fuel a concise, 62-yard, eight-play drive with passes of 18, 12, 10 and 15 yards and a seven yard bootleg. Hyland's 15-yard over-the-shoulder grab capped the sequence, which took only 2:21 off the clock.
For Dartmouth (4-3 overall, 3-1 Ivy League), it was the second week in a row that the team resurrected its Ivy League Title hopes from seemingly-certain doom. Last week's victim was Cornell, which led 21-6 late in the third quarter before succumbing, 28-27.
"Each week the comebacks keep getting better and better," Fiedler said. "It just seems like when the pressure is on we come up big. But we've got to stop doing this to ourselves."
Whatever it is Fiedler is doing, it's quite clear that he's developed quite a knack for it. Fiedler threw for 358 yards, the second-best passing day in Dartmouth history behind his 419-yard aerial barrage on Homecoming against Yale last season, but 200 of those and all three of his touchdown passes came in the final 16 minutes of the game.
Most importantly, he's gotten into the habit of making what should have been game-ending mistakes seem like minor transgressions and, of course, the first half comes to mind.
Indeed, the Crimson could have put Dartmouth away in the first half. Although cornerback Chris Andre returned one of Fielder's interceptions 52 yards for a touchdown which gave Harvard a 20-11 half-time lead, the men from Cambridge did not capitalize on their other two picks.
Harvard's other scoring came from a pair of field goals, including one from 51-yards out and a 92-yard, nine-play drive catalyzed by Giardi's 61-yard bomb to halfback Mark Cote -- and a stealthy 15-yard touchdown run by the senior quarterback.
Dartmouth's only touchdown on the half came off a drive that started with a Harvard fumble on its own 41 yard line and ended with a one-yard plunge from Oberle, with catches from Hyland of 10 and 17 yards along the way.
Kicker Geoffrey Willison '95 drilled a 27-yard field goal to round off Dartmouth's first half scoring.
Willison had a strong game -- making all his kicks and coming up with two big tackles on kicks returns, preventing two Crimson touchdowns.