Big Green face undefeated Crimson for second straight year

by Christopher LaForgia | 10/29/04 5:00am

This Saturday's Homecoming game marks the 108th meeting of Dartmouth and Harvard in football, and to prevent a recurrence of the first outcome -- when Harvard slammed Dartmouth 53-0 in 1882 -- the Big Green's coaches have switched up the starting line.

Backup Dan Shula '06 will play as this week's starting quarterback, in an effort to break the team's seemingly unstoppable losing streak.

But the Big Green is used to such dry spells. After 18 straight losses and 16 shutouts, Dartmouth finally beat Harvard in 1903, spoiling the opening of Harvard Stadium with an 11-0 victory. Harvard leads the series 57-45-5 and has beaten the Big Green six of the last seven years.

The only Dartmouth win in the last seven years happened last year. Led by quarterback Charlie Rittgers '06, the Big Green traveled to Cambridge, Mass. and stunned Harvard 30-16. Rittgers had a career day, running for a score and completing 17 of 33 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns.

The key play was on a third and 28 late in the game. Rittgers scrambled out of the pocket and heaved a long pass to wide receiver Andrew Hall '05, who extended one arm and caught the ball between two defenders.

The victory gave Dartmouth enough momentum to win two of its last three games, while Harvard's Ivy League title hopes were squashed when they lost their next two games.

Last year's victory was clearly the biggest win in the last three years for Dartmouth football. Not only was it a victory over an undefeated team, but it was over Harvard.

"Regardless of the sport or if you're an athlete or not, Harvard is a big game for anyone," Rittgers told The Dartmouth.

Looking ahead to this Saturday's Harvard game, Rittgers said the team will have to turn in a stellar performance to beat the Crimson, which he sees as feasible despite the team's disappointing performance thus far.

"They have a couple of really explosive players on their offense," Rittgers said, "but the team is upbeat, and the guys are ready to play."

"It would have been easy to pack it up and go home with an 0-6 start. But the guys really haven't given up one bit. We have four games left, and 4-6 is a hell of a lot better than 0-10. We have to look at the season as four games, and we can go 4-0," he said.

The Big Green will face a tough opponent in the Crimson. Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, an NFL prospect, leads the Ivy League in total offense with 249 yards per game and has been punishing defenses with his strong arm and overall physique.

Dartmouth has been preparing for Fitzpatrick's running style with scout quarterbacks in practice. It is much more difficult, however, to prepare for star Harvard running back Clifton Dawson. With three touchdowns last week against Princeton, Dawson has already set a school record with 14 touchdown runs this season.

Only a sophomore, Dawson is averaging 146 yards per game this season. Last year, Dawson broke free for 167 yards on 17 carries against the Big Green, nearly 10 yards per carry. The Big Green will utilize the running game heavily in an effort to control the clock and contain the Harvard offense by keeping them off the field, said Chris Little '05.

While Rittgers torched Harvard last season, it appears he will not get a chance this weekend to repeat the performance. Coach John Lyons has named Shula as this week's starting quarterback.

Last year, Rittgers was known for his mobility and accurate arm, throwing 15 touchdowns for 2138 yards. This year has been different, as Rittgers has thrown 12 interceptions in the first six games. In his defense, he has been under constant pressure due to numerous injuries on the offensive line and because of the inability of the running game to take pressure of his arm.

Nevertheless, the pressure is squarely on Shula at quarterback this weekend. In his collegiate career, Shula has only played at the end of two games, going 2 for 8 for 19 yards with one interception.

Rittgers was disappointed about not starting, but he was upbeat about Shula and Dartmouth's chances at victory.

"I understand Coach Lyons' decision and am behind the team and Dan 100 percent. We're looking to get back on track, and this Saturday's game is where it has to start," he said.

Harvard (6-0) will take on Dartmouth (0-6) at Memorial Field at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.