Big Green hoping for victory, Harvard loss
It looms behind the north end zone, framing one of the more impressive landscapes in college football.
It will have the attention of every player, coach and fan in attendance at tomorrow's season finale against Princeton.
Given the history of these two teams this season, the scoreboard will not provide much entertainment throughout the game as the two stingy defenses should keep scoring to a minimum. The prediction of snow should help continue that trend as well.
Rather, eyes will be focused on the out-of-town scores, as fans scan the little lights in hopes that they will illuminate a miracle in the form of a Yale upset over Harvard. That upset, coupled with a Big Green victory, would provide Dartmouth with a share of the Ivy title with the Crimson.
For Dartmouth, tomorrow's game against Princeton marks the end of a successful journey through their 1997 schedule, regardless of the outcome of the Harvard game. For Princeton, tomorrow marks the final stop on their season-long 3,290 road-trip, a season that started with promise and has faded along with the names on their luggage tags.
For Pete Sellers '98, the numbers certainly aren't pretty, except in one column, the win column. Sellers has struggled since entering the main portion of the Ivy League schedule, throwing 15 interceptions and only three touchdowns in the past four weeks. But Sellers has managed to lead the team to seven victories this year, including two game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. Against Princeton's defense, Sellers needs to shake off mistakes and just worry about doing what he does well winning.
After taking a year off from football, Tiger quarterback Harry Nakielny expected this senior year to be a triumphant return to Ivy League play. While Nakielny has been consistently mediocre, the Princeton offense has been consistently poor, ranking seventh in the passing department. Nakielny ranks last among Ivy league quarterbacks throwing the football.
Reggie Belhomme's '00 33 carry, 144-yard performance against Brown proves that he is the guy that Head Coach John Lyons wants to give the ball to. However, that appeared to be the case with Dylan Karzcewski '99 after his 190 yard effort against Cornell. Expect Dartmouth to try and control the football tomorrow by using Belhomme, but expect the Big Green to mix in a good dose of Karczewski and fullback Bob Corso.
Princeton has been abysmal running the football this year, indicated by the fact that they are the only Ivy League team to average less than 100 yards a game on the ground. Gerald Giruato ranks fourth in the conference in rushing with 53 yards a game, but Dartmouth's defense should hold him under that number.
After effectively spreading the ball around to his entire receiving corps, Sellers has abandoned that philosophy and has focused in on his favorite target Zach Ellis. Ellis caught six of Sellers's eight completions last week against Brown and accounted for 90 of the 104 passing yards. Ellis leads the team 36 catches for 498 yards and four scores. Sellers needs to try and keep defenses more honest by finding other targets such as Ken Bollens '98, Eric Morton '97 and Will Harper '98.
In a season where the Tiger offense has been held without a touchdown in three games, the receivers have been no better for Head Coach Steve Tosches's squad. Ray Canole is Nakielny's only threat, hauling in 31 passes on the year. However, no other receiver on the team ranks among the top 25 Ivy League receivers in either catches or yards.
Dartmouth's offensive line played their best game in recent memory last week, allowing for Belhomme to give the Big Green only their second 100 yard effort of the season. Princeton's defense will try and stuff the Big Green running game, forcing Sellers to throw. The line, led by Dom Lanza '98 in his final game, needs to allow the Big Green to balance their attack.
The Tigers have one of the league's best guards in Hamin Abdullah, but the line has had little success this year. Princeton has had no success running or throwing, and a finger of blame has to go to the offensive line.
The Big Green front four has been solid throughout the year and features three starters playing in their final game for the Big Green. Defensive ends Damon Blechen '98 and Scott Hapgood '97 are tied for the team lead with six sacks each. As a whole, Dartmouth has recorded 38 sacks and 52 tackles for losses in the first nine games. Dartmouth, which is ranked second in rushing defense, shouldn't have any problems stopping the meager Princeton running game up front, allowing the linebackers to blitz Nakielny, and putting pressure on the pass.
Princeton's defensive front should be up to the task of stopping the Dartmouth running game. If the Tigers, led by tackle Mark Whaling, can force the Big Green to abandon the run, it could be a long day for the Dartmouth passing game.
The heart and soul of the entire Dartmouth team, as the linebacking corps goes, so goes the Big Green. The emergence of Steve Varney '00 at the spot opposite Zach Walz '98 has given the Big Green better pressure on the quarterback. Varney's sack and forced fumble turned the game around for Dartmouth. Aside from Varney, Walz and Jon Gibbs '00 have 200 combined tackles on the season, proving this is the best linebacking corps in the Ivy League.
Giving up only 13 points per game, Princeton's middle has been tough against opponents who have tried to beat the Tigers. Captain Tim Greene's unit is one of the reasons the Tigers have held three opponents to a touchdown or less, including last week's 9-0 shutout over Yale.
Courtesy of the strength of the run defense, opposing teams have turned to assaulting the Big Green through the air. Twice this season, opponents have thrown the ball over 60 times. However, the secondary has kept teams out of the end zone. Despite giving up a Dartmouth-record 473 yards passing, the secondary only gave up one touchdown and made many key plays. Most of all, they shouldn't be tested by the Princeton offense.
Led by cornerback Damani Leech ,the Tigers secondary is very stingy and will be a tough test for Sellers in his final game at Dartmouth. Leech is one of the best defensive backs in the league and should be matched up against Ellis. The Tigers have frustrated many passing teams, ranking third in pass defense.
Special teams will play a big part in a game that figures to be a defensive struggle. The team that can garner the best field position will have a significant advantage, essentially shortening the field against the two strong defenses.
The Big Green have used domination in special teams to win games all year. Unfortunately on Saturday, they run into the best special teams unit in the league in the Tigers. While Dartmouth ranks second in punting, field goals and returns, Princeton ranks first in all of those categories. Placekicker Alex Sierk is the league's best, connecting on 15 of 16 tries this season. Sierk has history on Memorial Field as he hit the game-tying field goal on the final play of the season two years ago that eliminated Dartmouth from title contention. History could repeat itself this weekend if it comes down to a battle of placekickers.
Dartmouth has a chance to run their record to 8-2 on the season, an extremely impressive mark for a year that was once considered a rebuilding year. However, the stakes are higher should Harvard falter and the team is aware of that. Add on the final home game for this year's senior class, and the Big Green have everything to play for.
Princeton limps into the final game, not weak on either side of the ball but weak of heart. Playing every game on the road while they wait for their stadium to be built has taken its toll on a team that started the year 3-1. It's hard to know what to expect from this team, whether or not they'll just try to finish and go home or whether they'll play up to their capabilities.
For a second straight week, mother nature will take the field against both teams on Saturday, as freezing rain or snow is expected to fall throughout the contest. The weather shouldn't be too big of a factor though, because neither of these teams need encouragement to get involved in a physical, low-scoring battle the snow would bring.
Both Princeton and Dartmouth play defense first, offense later. This game will come down to turnovers, the defense that comes up with more big plays will win. Dartmouth has to be better at protecting the football than they have been in recent weeks, or they could lose to a Tiger team they should beat.
In the end, Dartmouth has the better defense and the offense, while inconsistent, is capable of scoring when the game is on the line. Dartmouth wins in a low-scoring affair.
Final Score: Big Green 10, Tigers 3