Bizarre blocked field goal play dooms Big Green

by Christopher LaForgia | 11/22/04 6:00am

In what may become one of the most bizarre college football rivalry games, Dartmouth-Princeton is now called the battle of the "1917 Sawhorse Dollar" game. In 2002, Dartmouth alum T.J. Rodgers '70 bet $1 with Princeton's Tad LaFontaine '72. Princeton won the game 38-30 and LaFontaine won the dollar. The 1917 dollar has since been framed and was given for the first time after the game to the Princeton captains for defeating the Big Green.

In another odd play combo, the Big Green lost another heartbreaker to Princeton this Saturday, 17-10. The game winning touchdown for the Tigers came on a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter. With 5:25 left in the game and the score tied 10-10, Princeton attempted at 42-yard field goal. Dartmouth co-captain Clayton Smith '05 managed to block the kick. The blocked kick was picked up by the 185 pound holder/punter of Princeton. Two Dartmouth defenders jumped on the kick holder before he could reach the first down marker. Yet, before the Princeton kick holder went down, he fumbled the ball. A Princeton player scooped it up and ran into the endzone giving Princeton a 17-10 lead.

With five minutes left, Dartmouth quarterback Charlie Rittgers '06 led the Big Green down the field for the potential tying touchdown. After several complete passes and a 15-yard pass interference call on Princeton, Dartmouth found itself on the Princeton 24 yard line. On third and 10 Rittgers threw to Bob Murphy '05 in the end zone, but the pass was dropped. On fourth down, Rittgers tried again for the score and threw to Aaron Brown '05 but the pass also slipped through the wide receiver's fingers. With back to back endzone drops, Dartmouth had sealed its fate.

"Drops happen, and we happened to have two in a row at the end of the game," Rittgers said. It was unusual for both of those guys and it was unfortunate."

The game started off in Dartmouth's favor as Clayton Smith forced a fumble on the first play. In addition to his forced fumble and blocked kick, Smith had six tackles and one interception. Chris Dodds '05 also had a big day for the Big Green defense forcing two fumbles in addition to his nine tackles.

But despite the Big Green's defensive efforts, the offense could not muster enough points. Rittgers continued to play better with 13-26 for 171 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The running game again was led by freshman Chad Gaudet with 30 rushes for 95 yards on the day. Yet, while the two drops in the endzone in the fourth quarter were critical errors, missed field goals once again prevented the Big Green from victory.

Like several games this season, Dartmouth kicking couldn't come through. On Saturday, Eric Hinterbichler '06 was one for three on field goals and Tyler Lavin '05 was 0-1. For the year, Dartmouth was 5-15 on field goals and nine of 11 on extra points. With field goals 30 yards or longer, Dartmouth was 1 of 10. With Lavin graduating after an injury plagued senior year, Dartmouth still has Hinterbichler who went five for 10. Expect Coach Lyons to take on a new kicker next year, considering that if Dartmouth had a stronger kicking game, the Big Green could have beaten Harvard, Columbia, possibly Colgate and now Princeton.

"I think there were a lot of games this season we should have won. It's too bad for everyone and especially for the seniors that we lost this game," Rittgers concluded.

One has to wonder why Dartmouth-Princeton has just labeled its rivalry after meeting since 1897. Raising a framed dollar bill after the game hardly seems nearly as fun as raising the Paul Bunyan axe that Wisconsin and Minnesota do after their game. The "1917 Sawhorse Dollar" game now enters into the college football lore as one of the most odd prizes for winning a rivalry game. Other notable prizes are a horse-drawn carriage for the UC-Davis " Sacramento State winner, a phone for Iowa State " Missouri, a steel tire for Akron " Youngstown, a skull for Ohio Wesleyan " Wittenburg and finally a shot glass for RPI " U.S. Coast Guard.

One also begins to question if everything is right with the Big Green football team, which has sported a 10-29 record over the last four seasons. With talented players like Casey Cramer '04, Smith, Andrew Hall '05, Jay Barnard '04 and Rittgers, it seems like something is wrong with Dartmouth football to put up so few wins. Despite this record, the players all appear to respect Coach John Lyons and feel he is a good coach.

Now, Dartmouth Athletics has a difficult decision ahead of itself, for it will be hard to keep Lyons with such a poor record, but it is also difficult to dismiss such a popular coach. Dartmouth finishes the season 1-9 and tied for last with Columbia.

The team will look to quarterback Rittgers, defensive end Ryan Conger '06, and running backs Chad Gaudet and Ray Rochester '07 next season.