Football finishes season at Princeton hoping for first Ivy win

by Austin Zalkin | 11/17/00 6:00am

Since the dawning of the Ivy League in 1956, the Dartmouth football team has won 17 conference championships. In no season has it failed to win a single game in League play.

The Big Green (1-8, 0-6) have a chance to snap that streak tomorrow with a loss against Princeton (3-6, 3-3) -- a distinction they would certainly rather avoid.

On the bright side for the Big Green, they are coming off two solid offensive performances with new quarterback Greg Smith '02 at the helm. Running back Mike Gratch '02, thrust into the starting role due to injury, also performed above expectations against Cornell two weekends ago and Brown last weekend.

Furthermore, the Tigers have had numerous troubles of their own, including playing four different quarterbacks this season and lacking a consistent running game.

But whereas the Big Green have yet to find a formula for victory, the Tigers have prevailed three times in the League, including an upset 19-14 victory over Yale in New Haven last weekend.

In Princeton's second win of the year, freshman third-string quarterback David Splithoff came from his high school prom to complete 13 of 17 passes for 289 yards in a wild 55-28 win over Brown.

Against Yale, the Tigers' quarterback merry-go-round saw Brian Danielewicz and Jon Blevins play a half each as Blevins became the unlikely hero this time.

Dartmouth, while switching between Smith and Brian Mann '02 as the starter every couple of games, has only upended Holy Cross this season in a defensive triumph, 31-14 on Oct. 14. Prior to that, the Big Green's last win was Nov. 20, 1999, against Princeton.

Sad story

Nine chapters of the Dartmouth football 2000 story have been written. Here's a summary:

Dartmouth's offense has struggled to keep up with the unusually high-powered Ivy League offenses this year. The unit was simply outscored by Penn, Columbia, Cornell and, most recently, Brown.

The offense has hurt itself all season with numerous turnovers.

The Big Green defense has struggled to replace eight graduated starters from 1999 and has suffered the consequences of the offense's inability to hold onto the ball.

All that remains is the conclusion. Last year, Dartmouth salvaged some respect and seemingly gave themselves a head start on this year with a gutsy, comeback win over the Tigers in Hanover.

If the team could repeat the winning performance in Princeton this year, it will avoid the ignominy of a winless Ivy season -- though it is guaranteed at least a tie for last place even with a win. And perhaps the momentum of a win would carry the team to greater success next season.

Princeton

Princeton Head Coach Roger Hughes, the offensive coordinator at Dartmouth for eight years through '99, will engage his first reunion with the Big Green. Hughes will start a banged up offense and a mediocre defense.

Starting tailback Kyle Brandt will miss the game, as will freshman wunderkind Splithoff, 10 of whose 26 drives ended in touchdowns. The opening day starter at quarterback, Tommy Crenshaw, was lost for the year with a broken wrist in midseason.

The defense allows an average of 27 points per game, though it clamped down to allow Yale only two touchdowns last weekend.

Outlook

Most of the Ivy League's attention will be focused on Ithaca, NY, and Cambridge, Mass., where Cornell hosts Penn for the League championship and Yale heads to Harvard for The Game.

The Dartmouth/Princeton game is about pride. With a win, the Tigers guarantee themselves at least fourth place in the League and possibly a tie for third. A 4-3 Ivy season would be a tremendous improvement over the Tigers' 1-6 League record last year.

Meanwhile, the best the Big Green can hope for now is 1-6.