Football battles Brown for title
To understand the magnitude of tomorrow's contest against second place Brown, one needs to look no further than the words of tri-Captain all-Ivy offensive lineman Brian Larsen '97.
"This is the biggest game of my life."
For the Ivy League which doesn't send teams to the Division I-AA playoffs or to bowl games, tomorrow's battle between the league's top two teams is the Ivy League's championship game. Many might believe this to be an overstatement, but among those cynics one won't find the Big Green football team. For them, this is undoubtedly the biggest game of their college careers -- a chance to win the Ivy League title outright.
There are no complicated formulas involving tiebreakers or points scored needed to decide the championship. A Dartmouth victory over the Bears allows the Big Green to bring their 17th Ivy League trophy back to Hanover. A tie also guarantees the Big Green a share of the title and would mean they could claim the title outright with a win at Princeton the final week. A loss to Brown would result in a tie for first place with the Bears. Meaning to gain a share of the title, Dartmouth would face a must win situation at Princeton in the final game of the season.
"This game is more or less the Ivy League championship for us," linebacker Mark Abel '97 said. "If we win, the title is ours. If something goes wrong, it's not over yet, but I think we'd rather not waste any time. Tomorrow is exactly what we've worked so hard for all season long, we will definitely be coming out to play."
To date, everything has been perfect for the Big Green, whose 40-0 clobbering of Columbia last week allowed them to move up six spots to number 19 in the most recent Division I-AA poll -- the Big Green's highest ranking since 1990.
They will be looking to extend their unbeaten streak to 16 games which would make it the longest streak in school history. Their record is perfect at 8-0, one of three teams in the nation to still boast a perfect record. Most importantly, their Ivy league record remains unblemished at 5-0 -- one game ahead of the second place Bears.
"In league play, since you can't really afford a loss, every game is for the championship, and we have played that way all year," quarterback Jon Aljancic '97 said. "But the game against Brown is for the championship, there is no doubt about that."
Anybody who has seen Brown play recently though would be hesitant to crown the Big Green champions. The Bears have a four game Ivy League winning streak and would be undefeated in Ivy play if it weren't for a slip-up in the season opener in which they were shutout by last-place Yale 30-0. They are coming into tomorrow's contest with an impressive 31-7 victory at Harvard, where the Crimson gave Dartmouth fits before losing the game on a missed field goal.
"Brown is a great team and I'm sure they feel the game is equally big for them," Larsen said.
Dartmouth's task will be to stop the high-flying offense of Brown which in the last six weeks has scored at least 27 points in every game. The offense is led by senior standout quarterback Jason McCullough. McCullough, a dangerous pocket passer who also has the ability to scramble, leads the league with 17 touchdowns and 1924 yards through the air.
He is joined in the backfield by freshman tailback Mike Wall and tailback Marquis Jesse, who are 10th and 12th respectively in the nation in total yards per game. Jessie is the workhorse on the ground having gained over 700 yards rushing the ball. The receiver position is also a dangerous spot as wideout Sean Morey has caught 45 balls on the year to lead the league.
The Big Green defense, which shutout Columbia last weekend, should be up to the challenge. Dartmouth's "Gang Green" is the stingiest defense in Division I AA, giving up only 10 points per game. In order to slow down the Brown offense, they will need to get heavy pressure on McCullough to force him to make quick throws as well as stop the run early so that they can focus on rushing the passer.
"There's really only one thing to stopping Brown's offense, and that is stopping McCullough," linebacker Zach Walz '98 said. "We need to put a lot of pressure on him all day and force him to get rid of the ball early. If he has too much time and confidence back in the pocket that he can really hurt us."
"It's really important to stop them on first down and make them throw the ball," Abel said. "If we hold them on first down, we can throw more at them from a blitz standpoint."
If the defense is unable to hold Brown's offense, then the game could very well become a shootout. Dartmouth's offense is the top rated offense in the Ivies, averaging over 410 yards and 28 points per game. Brown's defense, one of the worst in the league, has had trouble keeping opponents from moving the ball, which could be dangerous against a Big Green unit that has scored 38 points or more in three Ivy League contests this season.
"We are coming off of some impressive offensive games with Yale, Cornell, and Columbia in which our offense has played like a machine. The only team that can stop us is ourselves," Ellis said.
The key for the Big Green tomorrow will be to maintain possession of the football and keep the Brown offense off of the field. To do this, the offense will rely on Aljancic, who has had an outstanding year to date. Ranked 10th in passing efficiency in the nation, Aljancic's arm and running ability, especially his nine touchdowns rushing, has given the Big Green the balance needed to keep defenses confused all season.
"Brown has a good offense, so we feel offensively that we need to keep the ball in our hands and win the time of possession," Larsen said. "If we do that hopefully scoring points will take care of itself."
Kickoff is tomorrow at 12:00 p.m., and the game will be televised by Sports Channel New England.