Football gives Ivy champs a scare
With the victory, Princeton won a share of the Ivy League championship with the Yale Bulldogs, who handed Harvard a lopsided 34-13 defeat.
Despite an interception by Dan Cook '07 in the first quarter to produce a couple of energized offensive drives, Dartmouth's early attempts ended in turnovers or three-and-outs, and the Green could not mount an offensive attack resulting in points. Trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter, the Big Green relied on carries and receptions by Jason Bash '06 and first-down completions by quarterback Mike Fritz '07 to drive down the field.
The drive set up a 21-yard field goal from Andrew Kempler '08 that gave the Dartmouth sidelines some much-needed encouragement, and lit a light of hope on the horizon. But Princeton aimed to squash that hope in its next possession, driving the ball down the field in an effort that produced a successful field goal attempt and gave the Tigers a 17-3 lead over the Green with 1:24 left in the half.
A quick drive was needed, and Fritz and his offense delivered. Sparked by a crucial third-and-12 conversion play, Fritz hurled the ball to Brian Evans '08 for a first down and a gain of 45 yards. Another pass to Evans would set up a connection between Fritz and Ryan Fuselier '06 that the 6'5" receiver finessed into the endzone.
Kempler tacked on the extra point to make the score 17-10 in Princeton's favor, just before the end of the half. The sidelines were energized; the visitor stands were ecstatic and many a Tiger fan could be heard saying, "We may not win this game."
Coming out of half time, Dartmouth went three-and-out deep in its territory after a killer holding penalty, and was forced to punt. The Princeton offense took advantage of the field position and executed a 45-yard drive.
With the Tigers threatening, the Big Green men reached deep down, feeding off their linebacker corps of Joe Gibalski '07, Justin Cottrell '08 and Andrew Dete '09 in a gutsy stand at their own 11 yard line that forced a field goal attempt. The Princeton stands were silent as Cullen Gilchrist '07 used his size to stifle the ball, blocking the field goal.
Both teams' next possessions resulted in punting for territory, but Dartmouth's ensuing drive was one to remember. Fritz relied heavily on his receivers to march the ball down the field, finding Fuselier and Phillip Galligan '09 for key first downs. Fritz even scrambled for important yards on the drive, but it was Mark Brogna '08's first down reception that put Dartmouth inside the Princeton 5 yard line with under two minutes left in the third quarter.
Carries from Bash inched the Big Green closer to the goal line, before Fritz took the ball across the plane on a quarterback keeper, and Kempler added the extra point to tie the game at 17-17. The visiting stands erupted for what could have been the biggest upset of the year.
But it wasn't to be. "We played with a lot of heart," said Fritz, who went 21 of 36 for 237 passing yards and a touchdown run. Cottrell, who recorded 14 tackles on the day, summed up the afternoon, saying, "We gave them a run for their money, but we just came up a little short."
At the start of the fourth, the Tigers produced a successful field goal attempt to give them a 20-17 lead. The rest of the fourth quarter would see Princeton possessions executed nearly surgically as the Tigers exploited Dartmouth's defensive backs.
While the Dartmouth defense did all it could to pierce the offensive line, it was as if the elusive Princeton quarterback Jeff Terrell had WD-40 on his jersey. He slipped out of every backfield situation, stepping into the pocket, stepping out of the pocket and boggling the defense. His command over his offense could not be matched by a strong and capable Dartmouth defense.
Fritz's offense tried to mount a response but came up short after two possessions, as the line caved in on him on the second, allowing the Princeton defense a sack. Then the Tigers made the most of the field position they were given, scoring a touchdown on a well performed drive that padded their lead over the Green, making the score 27-17 with just 1:03 left in the game. Dartmouth's last effort at mounting a comeback failed at the Princeton 35 yard line as time expired.
Dartmouth faced its toughest opponent of the season in the Princeton Tigers, who boasted home field advantage at surely one of the nicest athletic facilities in the Ivy League. Even so, the Big Green played them tough through the duration of the game. After the crowd cleared the field in celebration of the home team's sharing of the Ivy League championship, the hard-fighting Big Green could take solace in having left it all on the field.