The Big Green couldn't have dreamed of a better execution of their game plan against Columbia. They went in knowing they needed to balance their offense, play strong run defense, control the clock and not turn the ball over. They did just that to gain their first shutout in four years, humiliating the Lions, 40-0, on Saturday afternoon. The margin of victory was the largest over an Ivy League opponent this year.
As a result, the title picture is clear for Dartmouth. At 8-0 and all alone atop the Ivy League, a win next week at Brown would give Dartmouth its first championship since 1992 and its first outright title since 1991. A loss would mean that the Big Green could grab a share of the title with a victory over last-place Princeton in the final week.
"That was the best game we have played against a good team in a very long time," Head Coach John Lyons said. "I was pleased for our players to go out and execute the way they did. Now they have put themselves in a position where if we win next weekend, we are the Ivy League champs."
It was the Big Green's most complete effort of the year. The offense put up 471 yards of total offense against the nation's second best defense and scored 40 points against a team that had given up only 79 points in the previous seven games. Columbia managed only 229 yards of offense while committing three turnovers. Dartmouth didn't turn the ball over once and held the ball for 15 more minutes than the Lions.
The first quarter set the tone for the rest of the game. Dartmouth's defense stopped Columbia in its first two possessions, giving the Big Green great field position. On the second drive, Dartmouth took advantage of its midfield start and marched 51 yards in just under two minutes.
The Big Green got on the scoreboard when tailback Greg Smith '97 took an option pitch around the left end and got a great block from Eric Morton '97 which allowed him to cut up the sideline untouched for a 24-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, quarterback Jon Aljancic '97, who had another spectacular day, found wide receiver Will Bergman '97 on a stop and go pattern for a 33-yard gain. The catch set up a 29-yard field goal by kicker Dave Regula '98 to give the Big Green a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Big Green wasted little time scoring in the second quarter as cornerback Tom Reusser '00 intercepted Lion quarterback Bobby Thomason on the first play of the second quarter at the Lions 28 and returned the ball 20 yards to set up Dartmouth first and goal. Two plays later, Aljancic made a great ball fake on the option and followed his offensive line into the end zone for a six yard touchdown run, his ninth rushing touchdown of the year.
"Last week against Harvard the defense really got off to a slow start," linebacker and tri-Captain Mark Abel '97 said. "This week we got off to a strong start and made them go three and out in their first possession which really gave us confidence. They hadn't been able to run the ball all year, and then by getting ahead, we could really just focus on pass defense."
Dartmouth's second scoring drive of the quarter was perhaps its most impressive drive of the year. Aljancic found Morton on two key third downs to keep the drive alive. Faced with third and 20, Aljancic's pass glanced just off the fingertips of fullback Pete Oberle '96 but a pass interference call against Columbia gave the Big Green new life inside the Lions 20 yard line. Aljancic capped off the 15-play, 76-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown toss to Bergman, who made a great catch in between two defenders in the right side of the end zone.
"I really don't enjoy throwing the ball in sloppy conditions," Aljancic said. "But the receivers made some great catches and the line did a terrific job blocking which made my job easier. I didn't expect that we were going to be able to throw the ball, but we came out and established the run early and the weather let up during the game so that really helped us."
Columbia showed some signs of life near the end of the half, but its drive stalled with just enough time left to let the Big Green march down the field one more time so that Regula could hit a 35-yard field goal as time expired to give Dartmouth a 26-0 halftime advantage.
The 26 points scored by the Big Green in the first half were more points than any opponent had scored on Columbia in the entire season to date. Furthermore, Dartmouth had gained 262 yards and 15 first downs against a defense that entered the game giving up only 210 yards per contest.
Columbia tried to get back into the game in the second half but just couldn't find holes in the Big Green's defense. Cornerback Brad Jefferson '98 intercepted a ball deep in Big Green territory to end Columbia's best scoring chance. On the next play, Ambrose Garcia '97 burst up the left side for a gain of 30 yards to give the offense breathing room. Aljancic took advantage of this room by finding receiver Zach Ellis'98 wide open on a deep fake option pass for a 70-yard touchdown pass play, the Big Green's longest touchdown of the season. Dylan Karczewski '99 provided the final blow to Columbia when he scored on an 11-yard touchdown run with five seconds remaining in the game.
Aljancic finished the day 17-24 for 258 yards, moving him into fifth place on the all-time Dartmouth passing list. Ellis had his second 100 yard receiving game of the year, gaining 105 yards on four catches while Bergman hauled in five catches for 72 yards.
"Our offense surprised me by being able to score all the points we did considering the weather," Lyons said. "The offensive line did a great job protecting Jon, and I thought he did a wonderful job throwing the ball and allowing us to mix up our plays real well, including some trick plays that I wasn't sure we'd be able to execute against them."
For Columbia it was an offensive nightmare. The Lion quarterbacks were intercepted three times, twice by Jefferson, and managed to connect on only 17 of 44 attempts. The Big Green defense, which notched their first Ivy League since 1990, gave up only 62 yards on the ground on 26 carries.
The victory was a fitting win for the 26 seniors who played their last game at Memorial Field. It was also a symbolic passing of the torch as senior Chris Rhodes '97 made the tackle on the first play of the game while a gang of freshmen tacklers ended the game by bringing down a Lion kick returner.
"To go out by shutting out a good team like Columbia and scoring 40 points is a very special way to leave Memorial Field and is something I will always remember," Abel said of his final game in front of Dartmouth students.