Big Green stopped inches short in upset bid
BThe Big Green showed the Ivy League that they are still a team to reckon with this year, but they failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities in a disappointing 13-11 loss to the University of Pennsylvania Saturday afternoon.
The Quakers were expected to roll over the Big Green -- Penn was riding a 13-game winning streak and Dartmouth was coming off a 20-16 loss to Colgate University.
But Dartmouth's defense did a fantastic job containing Penn's high-powered offense -- holding the Quakers to just 45 total yards and three points in the second half -- putting Dartmouth in position to pull off the upset.
For Dartmouth (0-2 overall, 0-1 Ivy League), though, it was a game of "excepts."
The defense did a good job containing the pass -- except for one breakdown: a 53-yard touchdown pass from Penn quarterback Mark DeRosa to wide receiver Mark Fabish.
Dartmouth's special teams had a very strong game -- except for when Geoff Willison '95 had an extra point attempt blocked.
And running back Pete Oberle '96 had a fantastic game against a tough Penn defense -- except for when the Big Green had the ball on the Penn 1-yard line on fourth down and Oberle couldn't punch it in.
Like their game against Colgate last week, Dartmouth was statistically superior to Penn. The Big Green had 246 total yards versus 189 for the Quakers and they converted eight of 19 third-down opportunities as opposed to two of 13 for Penn.
Dartmouth also averaged about 30 yards on its punt and kickoff returns, giving the team much better field position than Penn.
But the Big Green consistently failed to put the ball in the end-zone when they got deep into Penn territory. Six times Dartmouth got inside the Penn 25, coming up with only one touchdown and one field goal.
"I really thought our kids played extremely well," Coach John Lyons said. "It's just really frustrating because we had the opportunity to the win the ball game. We just made some mistakes."
The Big Green did show that they can play with the top-ranked teams in the league, and they also showed their strengths will be their running game and a top-notch defense that stifled a team that scored about 30 points per game last year.
Co-captain Hunter Buckner '95, who had several big defensive plays from his linebacker position, said the defense is disappointed each time it gives up points.
"Our goal is to go three-and-out every time," Buckner said. "If the other team doesn't score a single point, we win the game every time."
Lyons said Dartmouth should not be ruled out as possible Ivy League champions because of the loss. He said this game should be a confidence builder for the Big Green, who struggled last week but played a good game against a tough Penn team.
"I don't think this game was the Ivy League championship by any means," he said. "There are going to be a lot of interesting games along the way."
Penn was coming off a tough week -- a fire in its equipment room left players wearing their home jerseys in a road game. The team's bus also was delayed one hour on the way to Hanover and as a result the team had little time to practice on Friday.
The game was fairly even in the first half, with both teams relying on their big-time running backs. Dartmouth's offense was basically Oberle -- he had 57 of the Big Green's 88 yards in the first half.
Penn capitalized on good field position and got on the board first with a 34-yard field goal after a drive that went only 38 yards but ate up nearly eight minutes off the clock.
The next time Penn had the ball DeRosa faked a hand-off, spotted Fabish streaking down the field on a post pattern and lofted a perfect spiral. Fabish had a couple steps on Mike Hariff '97 and he caught the ball in stride and coasted into the end-zone to give Penn a 10-0 lead.
Dartmouth countered with a long drive led by several long runs by Oberle. But quarterback Ren Riley '96 made two poor decisions, trying to force passes to Andre Grant '95 and David Shearer '95, both of which were picked off.
Riley's second interception was especially painful because it came seconds after Buckner blocked a punt giving Dartmouth the ball on the Penn 16 with two minutes left in the half.
Riley had a rough first half -- completing more passes to Penn (two) than he did to Dartmouth (one, for six yards).
So in the second half, Dartmouth again pounded away with Oberle and relied on its tough defense. The two teams traded field goals, leaving the Big Green trailing 13-3 after three quarters. Penn countered with a 48-yard drive of its own, culminating in a 44-yard field goal and a 13-3 lead.
Dartmouth seemed to be gaining momentum early in the fourth quarter as Penn's offense sputtered, losing 11 yards on its first series. A nifty, darting 42-yard punt return by Chris Boran '95 left the Big Green on the Penn 23 yard line.
This time, Dartmouth was able to capitalize. On third and seven from the Penn 10, Riley rolled left and lofted a wobbly pass to Brian Radics '95 in the back corner of the end zone, pulling Dartmouth within four points.
But the extra point was blocked, a play that would loom large when the Big Green were within easy field goal range but needed a touchdown to take the lead.
Dartmouth's drive to finish the comeback began on the 20 yard line with seven minutes left. Riley made several big plays on the drive, including a 43-yard pass to Grant, a 10-yard scramble and a 9-yard pass to Grant on fourth and three.
Then a pass interference penalty gave Dartmouth the ball on the Penn 10. Oberle ran for five yards on first down, then three yards on second. On third down, Riley ran the option to the left, appearing to have a glimpse of daylight to the end zone. But Penn closed the hole, setting up the ill-fated fourth down.
When Penn took over on downs, they ran down the clock, then took an intentional safety, giving the Big Green the ball back with only six seconds left.