Big Green get their act together for a Senior Day win
Finally. The eight-game losing streak is over as Dartmouth football beat up on Brown 20-7 Saturday afternoon. All of the problems with kicking, running the ball and pass accuracy seemed to fade away as Dartmouth dominated a 5-3 Brown team.
The Big Green started off the game with something Dartmouth football fans will see for a long time: Chad Gaudet running the ball. Only a freshman, Gaudet ran for 137 yards on 37 carries. In the first quarter, on third and one, Coach John Lyons opted for a trick play. Gaudet ran right and threw a halfback option pass to Aaron Brown '05 for a gain of 14 yards. The Big Green would not score a touchdown, but Eric Hinterbichler '06 notched a 29-yard field goal to give the Big Green a 3-0 advantage, marking the first lead for Dartmouth since Oct. 9, with a 7-0 lead over Yale.
In the second quarter, Dartmouth's defense held Brown to negative-two total yards. With eight minutes left in the half, Brown's shaky sophomore quarterback Joe DiGiacomo threw a weak pass over the middle right to Clayton Smith '05, who was waiting for the interception. With great field position, Dartmouth looked to add to the lead. Yet, on a poor third and nine rollout call, Charlie Rittgers '06 was sacked. Hinterbichler's 31-yard field goal try hit the upright and was no good.
However, in this game, the Dartmouth defense would not let up. On the next possession, Joe Gibalski '07 sacked DiGiacomo and forced a fumble which Derham Cato '05 recovered on the Brown 7 yard line. After three runs, Gaudet punched it in giving the Big Green a 10-0 lead.
Dartmouth came out of halftime with a bang, with a 59-yard kick-off return by Steve Jensen'05. Rittgers continued to lead the offense efficiently, with short, quick passes. After a 20-yard field goal, the Big Green led 13-0.
At the end of the third quarter, a catch interference call on a punt gave Dartmouth great field position. With nine rushes for 34 yards on the drive, Gaudet led the Big Green down the field. On a third and goal from the 12, Rittgers sold the play-action pass and hit Andrew Hall '05 on a slant for the touchdown. The game was now 20-0, and it was time to start the buses back to Providence for Brown. Dartmouth's offense stalled in the fourth quarter, and put pressure on the defense to hold Brown, but the defense was up to the challenge.
Everything seemed to come together for the Big Green on Saturday. The Big Green defense deserves a large part of the credit for Saturday's win for stopping one of the best offenses in Division 1-AA. Brown's Nick Hartigan, the fifth leading rusher in the nation, was held to only 65 yards on 15 carries. Hartigan's 65 yards marked a season low and forced Brown to turn to quarterback DiGiacomo. Dartmouth kept constant pressure on DiGiacomo, sacking him six times on the day. On one series, Dartmouth had three straight sacks forcing Brown into a fourth and 39.
Having struggled with the running game for weeks, Dartmouth now seems to have found a mainstay at running back in Gaudet. While Chris Little '05 has struggled, running for zero yards on five carries for the second straight week, Gaudet has more than filled the void.
Gaudet commented, "It really felt good to beat Brown. I guess we hadn't beat them since 1997. The line did an incredible job getting a push off the line. Risha did a great job on his blocks and I just tried to hide behind those guys."
When asked where he was during the first six weeks of the season, Gaudet responded, "I was learning a lot from the older guys in the beginning of the season and still trying to adjust to all of the new information thrown at me. Football is really a much more complex game at this level."
Quarterback Rittgers played his best game of the season thus far. Rittgers was 12 for 16 for 111 yards and a touchdown. One interception will show up in his stats, but it was merely a hail-Mary pass at the end of the first half. Rittgers appeared confident in the pocket and did not force passes like he had done in earlier games. With Dartmouth finally running the ball effectively, the opposing defensive line had to respect the run and could not just come after Rittgers as in recent weeks.
"Our ability to run the ball successfully allowed us to throw some easy play action passes, which took a lot of pressure off the passing game. Our offensive line played an excellent game and Chad capitalized on all of the opportunities the line gave him," Rittgers said.
Eric Hinterbichler '06 stepped up and hit two extra points and two of three field goals. While this might not seem like a stellar afternoon, considering the woes of Dartmouth kicking, this was by far the best afternoon this season. Lyons stuck with Hinterbichler for all PATs and field goals and left Tyler Lavin '05 to kickoffs. While Lavin has received acclaim for his 50-plus field goals, his inability to hit extra points has come back to haunt Dartmouth, especially in the Harvard game.
The victory might taste a little bittersweet for the Big Green. It showed how much talent this team has and that they should have done better this season. It has taken until the ninth game to settle on Rittgers as the quarterback, Gaudet as the running back, and Hinterbichler as the kicker. Also, it took until the seventh game for the coaching staff to rely more on the running game so Rittgers could use play action and play the type of game he played this Saturday.
Gaudet commented, "There's no doubt we should have beat Harvard, Cornell and Columbia. But we knew there was nothing we could do about that all we could do was beat Brown. And now all we want to do is beat Princeton."
Dartmouth travels to Princeton for its final game next Saturday. Princeton is coming off a 21-9 loss to Yale. After a 4-1 start, the Tigers have dropped four straight, with one-point losses to Penn and Cornell. Princeton is led by a 1-2 running punch of Jon Veach and Brandon Benson. Veach and Benson have combined for 10 touchdowns and over 500 yards each this season.
Last year, led by Rittgers' 233 yards passing, Dartmouth beat Princeton 21-15. This year, expect less of Rittgers passing and more of Gaudet running, as Princeton has a porous run defense. Princeton allowed Yale's Robert Carr to run for 160 yards, Colgate's Jamaal Branch run for 179 yards, and Harvard's Clifton Dawson for 201 yards this season. Princeton even allowed 239 rushing yards against Columbia.
With the Big Green defense playing tough, expect a low scoring affair that will depend on Rittgers' ability to limit turnovers as he did this Saturday. And if the Big Green play anything like they did against Brown, expect Dartmouth to leave New Jersey with their second victory of the year.