Football loses a heartbreaker against Brown 24-14
In Saturday's football game between Dartmouth and Brown, there was nothing surprising about standout running back Nick Hartigan's 193 yards and two touchdowns and the Bears picking up their Ivy-best fifth League win of the season on their home field. That the Big Green led after three quarters, however, and had the ball in its hands down just a field goal in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter probably surprised everyone not wearing a green and white uniform.
In a 24-14 heartbreaking loss to Brown in Providence, Dartmouth's defense bent but rarely broke, becoming the first squad this season to hold the Bears below 30 points. The unit held starting quarterback Joe DiGiacomo to 93 yards passing on a paltry seven completions in 23 attempts, while Brown kicker Steve Morgan missed three field goals, continually breathing life into the Dartmouth attack. The Big Green offense, meanwhile, benefited from 287 yards passing and two touchdowns from emerging quarterback Josh Cohen '09 before his fumble in the Dartmouth end zone was recovered by the Bears with 2:26 to play, guaranteeing a Brown triumph.
With the win, Brown improves to 8-1 on the season (Ivy 5-1) and clinches at least a share of the Ivy League title. Dartmouth tumbles to 2-7 overall, with a 1-5 mark in Ivy League play. Although agonized by the loss, the Dartmouth players were encouraged by the valiant effort put forth against an exceptional opponent on its home field.
"This loss was probably our toughest loss of the season because we had the lead in the third quarter against the top team in the Ivy League," said wide receiver Ryan Fuselier '06, who hauled in both Big Green touchdowns. "But I was very proud of the team for the effort we put out against Brown. Everyone played with a lot of passion and toughness."
Down 10-7 late in the third quarter, the Big Green jumped out to its first lead of the game. After a 38-yard missed field goal attempt by Morgan, Cohen completed four passes, including a 34-yard connection with Jason Raiti '06, to set up a first down at the 12-yard line. On the next play, Cohen lofted a jump ball on a fade route to the 6'5" Fuselier, whom was matched up against a smaller defensive back in the end zone, Fuselier leapt and snatched the pigskin with one hand for the go-ahead score.
"It was one of those catches that you really don't know how you made the catch, but you will take it," said Fuselier, who made seven grabs for 75 yards on the day. "It gave us a lot of momentum to gain the lead with the touchdown, especially that late in the game."
On Brown's first possession of the fourth quarter, however, the Bears would answer. After struggling mightily throughout the game, the normally efficient Joe DiGiacomo was replaced by backup quarterback Anthony Vita, who completed passes of 21 and 15 yards to set up a four-yard Hartigan touchdown burst. The converted extra-point gave the Bears a 17-14 lead that they would not relinquish.
But, after two Dartmouth punts, Brown would fail to take advantage of an opportunity to put the men in green away. After owning a first and goal from the Dartmouth seven yard-line, the stubborn Dartmouth defense would hold its ground, forcing a 27-yard field goal attempt that Morgan missed, his third errant kick of the game.
With four minutes remaining and the team enlivened by the defensive stand, the Big Green would unfortunately advance no further. Although he had only been sacked twice prior to the possession, Cohen would hit the turf on three consecutive pass plays, the third of which resulted in a fumble that was corralled by defensive tackle Greg Burlin in the end zone for a touchdown that effectively clinched the victory for Brown.
After allowing a combined 15 sacks in Dartmouth's two prior contests, the disastrous possession perhaps encapsulated the Big Green's recent struggles. According to Fuselier, the sacks were not specifically the fault of the offensive line or quarterback but were "a result of mistakes by the offense as a whole."
With hard-nosed running back Jason Bash '06 unable to play with an injured ankle, the Big Green struggled to run the ball consistently against a defense that had allowed 4.8 yards per carry on average entering the game. On the day, Dartmouth totaled "9 yards rushing, its second consecutive sub-zero rushing performance. Running backs Ikechi Ogbonna '06 and Milan Williams '09 combined for a meager 29 yards on 14 carries.
Despite the lack of a running game, however, Cohen managed to move the offense effectively through the air. He had perhaps the best game of his young and promising career, completing 28 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns to Fuselier, leading head coach Buddy Teevens to tell reporters that "offensively that's probably as productive a game as we've had."
Unfortunately for the Big Green, All-Ivy and All-American running back Nick Hartigan was rather productive himself, carrying the ball 35 times for 193 yards. The leading rusher in Division 1-AA and five-time Ivy League Player of the Week scored both of Brown's offensive touchdowns to collect 12 points, breaking his own school record for points in a season with 114. His first score came on a four-yard run late in the first quarter.
"Nick is a good runner who doesn't go down on first contact and won't stop running his feet," said Big Green co-captain and defensive end Anthony Gargiulo '06. "He is a great north-south runner that isn't afraid to take the ball through tough spots. I feel that we didn't wrap up and run our feet quite well enough."
Although the defense had difficulty bringing Hartigan down, however, the unit thoroughly stifled Brown's passing attack, forcing Brown coach Phil Estes to pull DiGiacomo, who came into the game with a 54.6 completion percentage, 1579 yards and 14 touchdown passes.
"We had a great game from our cover guys and got solid pressure up front," said Gargiulo, who led the charge with a team-high seven unassisted tackles, four tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. "We took the quarterback to the ground a lot, which is something he is not used to."
Despite impressive efforts on offense and defense, however, the men in green simply could not make plays on offense when they needed them most. "We had our opportunities," Teevens told reporters. "Unfortunately in the fourth quarter, we didn't finish it off."
Next week, the Big Green will attempt to finish off its season on a winning note. The team returns home for its last game next Saturday when it takes on the Princeton Tigers (6-3, Ivy 4-2) at noon.