Big Green football heads to Cambridge an underdog

by Evan Meyerson | 10/28/05 5:00am

Dartmouth football has, unfortunately, learned to start small and appreciate gains here and there. For instance, the team's heralded homecoming victory over Columbia is seen as a positive step forward and a potential momentum-booster even while Columbia has resided in the doghouse of the Ivy League for almost four decades. And thank the Lord for Colgate, without which the Big Green would lack entirely in the category of impressive wins. Nevertheless, football season is ten weeks long and one game can transform a lost cause into a worthy year.

Dartmouth will have exactly that opportunity as the Big Green visits reigning Ivy champion Harvard for a Saturday matinee.

While Harvard sits at 3-3, 1-2 Ivy, the Crimson remains a more than formidable foe. The possibility of unseating a defending champion must be embraced by any struggling team, no matter the circumstances. If Dartmouth can triumph over Harvard and move to 3-4 on the year with two solid victories as well as a two-game win streak, fans may just begin to forgive their heroes of old for their recent failings.

Realistically speaking, Dartmouth goes into Cambridge as a significant underdog, with bleak prospects of returning home as victors. The two teams' only common opponent has been Holy Cross, to which Dartmouth lost 28-16 and the Crimson defeated 31-21. Harvard has proven itself offensively, scoring at least 13 points in each of its six games, while Dartmouth has exhibited signs of offensive amateurism throughout the season, scoring more than 20 points only twice. Big Green head coach Buddy Teevens was forced to replace three-year starting quarterback Charlie Rittgers '06 with freshman Josh Cohen '09 due to the senior's inconsistency.

Strange occurrences, however, do happen in sports. The underdog can sometimes have the loudest bark. All things considered, Dartmouth has a shot. Admittedly, for the Big Green to win, the team must demonstrate substantial improvement in various aspects of the game. For one, the Dartmouth defense must combine its recent propensity to stifle opponents in the second half with a strong first half performance as well. Led by captains Anthony Garguilo '06 and Josh Dooley '06, Dartmouth must prevent long passes and third down conversions while constantly applying pressure on Harvard sophomore quarterback Liam O'Hagan.

Secondly, the offense must finally wake up. The Big Green has shown signs of its potential with a dominating fourth quarter against Holy Cross two weeks ago -- in which Cohen led the team to 218 yards of offense and two touchdowns -- and an impressive day on the ground against Columbia last Saturday with 134 total yards. If running backs Jason Bash '06 and Ikechi Ogbonna '06 can orchestrate a charge on the ground once again, a weight will undoubtedly be taken off of the rookie quarterback, who has, at times, revealed a tendency to rush passes when under pressure. If Harvard's defense is forced to contain the rush, Cohen will be given more time in the pocket to show off his arm strength.

Teevens will be challenging a close acquaintance this weekend as well. Harvard head coach Tim Murphy has been a good friend of Teevens and his family since the two men were assistant coaches together at Boston University in the early 1980s. Teevens named Murphy his offensive coordinator after accepting the head coaching position at Maine in 1985. Murphy then succeeded Teevens after the coach left in 1987.

Saturday will be the first time the old buddies meet on opposite sides of the field.

Since the very first contest in 1888, Harvard has taken 58 of the 108 games played between the two historic rivals. The Crimson has beaten Dartmouth in seven of their last eight meetings, including a 13-12 Homecoming heartbreaker for the Big Green last season at Memorial Field.

Kickoff at Harvard Stadium is set for Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Dartmouth fans can follow the action on WDCR-AM (1340) and WFRD-FM (99.3) with Bob Lipman and Wayne Young. The game can also be heard at www.DartmouthSportsRadio.net.

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