Green wraps up season at Princeton

by Kevin Demoff | 11/20/98 6:00am

Throughout their illustrious football histories, Dartmouth and Princeton have met on the final weekend to decide the Ivy League title on much-anticiapted late November Saturdays. That won't be the case this weekend though. Instead, both teams will attempt to salvage some pride after seasons gone amiss.

Dartmouth enters the game at 2-7, guaranteed of the worst finish in the seven-year tenure of Head Coach John Lyons. Princeton, on the other hand, after starting the season with a 2-0 record in the Ivy League, has dropped three of four games in the Ancient Eight and is looking to even their overall record with a win against the Green. Forget about a battle royale for the title, this will be a battle for respect. That bodes well for a Dartmouth team that has gone 6-1-1 against Princeton in the '90s.

The Big Green are coming off what Lyons called their "best performance of the season." The bad news is despite their impressive performance in Providence, the Big Green fell 28-21 to Brown for their fourth straight Ivy League loss.

"I thought we played our best game of the year, and to lose the way we did was awful," Lyons said. "The kids were really disappointed, but as they've shown in practice, they aren't ready to give up just yet."

One reason excitement abounds on the Big Green squad is that the team makes its first trip to the new Princeton Stadium, which was completed earlier this season. Two years ago, Dartmouth won the last game at the old Palmer Stadium, 24-0.

"We're excited to get into the stadium and play," Lyons said. "Everybody wants to see what it's like."

What Dartmouth will get a taste of is smash-mouth defense, as Princeton's defensive unit is ranked second coming into the contest, giving up 300 yards per contest.

"Their front four is physical and they'll get after you," Lyons said. "That could be a problem since we can't keep them honest with the run and our line has had problems in recent weeks."

Dartmouth will try to attack a Princeton secondary that has become suspect in recent weeks. The Big Green air attack has resurfaced in recent weeks, picking up over 480 yards of offense through the skies against Columbia and Brown.

"Princeton's rush defense is best in the league, but we'll have to run the ball to win," Lyons said. "We can't win putting the ball up 50 times a game."

Quarterback:

Three weeks ago, Big Green starter Mike Coffey '99 was immersed in a quarterback controversy. All Coffey has done in response is have his best two games of the season, setting career highs for completions and yards against both Columbia and Brown. On the season, Coffey has nearly 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns and in recent weeks has shown the leadership and heart needed to lead the Big Green.

Much like Coffey, Princeton starter John Burnham has put together a string of impressive games to close out his career. The Tigers' senior signal-caller has passed for 200 yards in four straight games, becoming the first Princeton quarterback to accomplish such a feat since 1987. However, he threw six interceptions against Yale last week in New Haven after throwing only five in the previous eight games.

Advantage: Even

Running Back:

Reggie Belhomme '00 picked up a solid 74 yards last week against Brown and is showing some of the flash that earned him the starting job at the end of last season. Still, Dartmouth's rushing offense ranks last in the Ivy League, averaging just 1.8 yards per carry. The task doesn't get any easier against Princeton's top-ranked rushing defense.

The Tigers have employed a running back by committee system because of their inability to find a quality starter. However, the system has been effective as the Tigers pile up 143 yards per game, third in the Ancient Eight and the best Princeton has posted since the departure of Keith Elias. Despite having no member of the backfield average over 45 yards per contest, four Tigers gain over 30 yards per game.

Advantage: Princeton

Wide Receiver:

The wide receiving corps has been the bright spot for the Big Green offense all season long. Tight end Adam Young '99 has been Coffey's favorite target all season long, and as a result leads the team in catches (36) and yards (407). Inside the red zone though, the ball goes to lanky 6'4" receiver Damon Ferrara '98 , who has four touchdowns to his credit this season, tying him for the team lead. Forest Wester '98 had his best game of the season against Brown, hauling in six passes for 97 yards.

Ryan Crowley leads a strong Princeton receiving unit with 41 catches, but the big play man for the Tigers has been junior Phil Wendler. Three times this season Wendler has gone over the 100-yard mark, and his 17 yards per catch rank him third in the league behind Penn's Brendan Carson and Wester. The Tigers' Ray Crowley has caught a pass in 19 straight games.

Advantage: Even

Offensive Line:

It is no secret that the offensive line has struggled all season long for the Big Green. Against Harvard, Columbia and Brown the past three weeks, Dartmouth's front five have given up 21 sacks to opposing pass rushers. Although the Big Green's inability to run the ball has allowed defenders to key in on the passing game and blitz more often, Big Green quarterbacks have been under siege all season long.

Conversely, Princeton's offensive line has been solid all season long, keying a balanced attack that is third in the Ivy League in rushing and third passing the ball. Dartmouth will need to blitz the Tigers' front in order to get pressure on Burnham.

Advantage: Princeton

Defensive Line:

The Big Green's defensive line has improved its pass rush in recent weeks and was impressive against Brown, forcing the Bears' James Perry to turn the ball over three times. Dartmouth has recorded 15.5 sacks this season, with defensive Adam Kane '99 spearheading the front four with three quarterback sacks and eight tackles for loss. Despite being banged up for the past few weeks, Kyle Schroeder '00 has notched two sacks and seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Princeton's defensive front might be the most dominant line in the Ivy League. Junior defensive end David Ferrara needs 2.5 sacks to tie the Tigers' single-season sack record of 14.5, while opposite of him Dan Swingos has 95 stops on the season. Last week marked the first time the Tigers failed to record a sack this season.

Advantage: Princeton

Linebacker:

Steve Varney '00 enjoyed perhaps his finest game of the year against Brown, which is saying a lot for the Big Green's leading tackler. Varney is tops among the team with 118 stops on the season and nine stops behind the line of scrimmage. Middle linebacker Jon Gibbs '99 is second on the team with 108 tackles, while outside linebacker Kyle Rogers '99 leads the team with four sacks.

The past four years the Tigers have put a linebacker on the All-Ivy first team, and this year may be no different as both Jim Swingos and Dan Foote have been excellent contributors. Foote has two interceptions for touchdowns this season while Swingos keys a defense that gives up an Ivy-low of 75 yards rushing per game.

Advantage: Dartmouth

Secondary:

Despite giving up 370 yards to the Brown offensive machine last week, Dartmouth's secondary has been outstanding all season long. The Big Green rank fourth in the league against the pass, but have recorded a league-high 13 interceptions on the season. Safety Brad Eissler '01 is making a run for post-season honors with five interceptions, including a touchdown-return last week in Providence. Cornerback Tom Reusser '00 has grabbed three balls and has picked up his game in the absence of the injured Brad Verber '99.

The Tigers pass defense ranks second in the Ivy League, but one of the main reasons has been the ability of the front seven to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. If Dartmouth can protect Coffey, the coaching staff feels that the Big Green can exploit a secondary that has a freshman starting at cornerback.

Advantage: Dartmouth

Special Teams:

Wayne Schlobohm '00 sparked the Big Green last weekend by pooching five punts inside the 20-yard line. His punting skills should be important in what could be a game of field position tomorrow. The improvement of Dylan Karczewski '99 in the return game has helped Dartmouth's offense get better field position.

As good as Schlobohm may be, the Tigers Matt Evans might be better. Evans leads the league in average yards per punt, picking up 44 per kick, but ranks second to Schlobohm in net punting. Place-kicker Alex Sierk is the league's best and with two field goals can tie former Big Green kicker Dave Regula's career mark of 38 field goals.

Advantage: Princeton

Prediction:

Although it hasn't shown up in the win column, the Big Green have slowly improved in the past few weeks. They have controlled the ball on offense, winning time of possession the last four contests, helping to rest a banged up Dartmouth defense. But the Big Green run into a Princeton team playing at home that is superior on offense, defense and special teams. Furthermore, playing in front of a rowdy 25,000 people at Princeton should be daunting to a squad that has played against average crowds of 8,000 people.

This is going to be a close battle, with the team causing the most turnovers emerging victorious. If the Big Green can give Coffey time to throw the ball, Dartmouth will be able to move the football on offense. But given Princeton's pass rush, Coffey is likely to be under siege all afternoon. Still, Dartmouth's defense, which regained its play-making dynamism last week, will continue their energetic play this week. The Big Green won their last trip to Palmer Stadium and will treat Princeton Stadium just as rudely.

Final Score: Green 21, Tigers 20

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