Football falls at home to Penn, 28-21

by Brett Drucker | 9/30/12 10:00pm

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Ryan McManus '15 scored in the fourth quarter to cut Penn's lead to seven, but it was too little, too late for Dartmouth on Saturday.
by Maggie Rowland and Maggie Rowland / The Dartmouth

After Dartmouth won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, Penn took advantage of its first opportunity with the ball to go on a methodical 13-play, 84-yard drive to score the game's opening touchdown. Dartmouth's offense failed to respond for most of the quarter, with quarterback Alex Park '14 seeing relentless pressure that would be a theme of the game.

Penn's second offensive drive seemed destined for the same result as its first, but the Quakers were limited to a field goal after a holding penalty stalled another 13-play drive.

Kirby Schoenthaler '15 attempted to build on the momentum of the defensive stop by returning the ensuing kickoff to the Dartmouth 47-yard line, and the Big Green drove into Quaker territory to reach the Penn 34. On a fourth and four, however, Michael Reilly '12 dropped Park's pass, ensuring that Dartmouth would come away with nothing.

Penn drove again for another field goal by capitalizing on the athletic play of its quarterbacks, especially senior Billy Ragone, who saw the majority of the Quakers' snaps. Ragone's passing (14-for-18, 165 yards) and ability to scramble when the pocket collapsed (14 carries, 60 yards) created problems for the Dartmouth defense all day.

"He's a good athlete who's going to make plays," linebacker and co-captain Bronson Green '14 said. "Containing him was definitely going to be a challenge."

Dartmouth also continued the miscues on that drive with a pair of missed interceptions by Dartmouth defensive backs.

After registering only three offensive snaps in the first quarter, the Big Green began to show some life in the second after Park completed a tough pass over the arms of a reaching defender to Reilly, who streaked down the left sideline for a gain of 45 yards. The drive culminated in a 30-yard field goal attempt from last week's hero, Riley Lyons '15. But Lyons missed left, keeping Dartmouth scoreless after its first trip into the red zone.

The Quakers grabbed one more touchdown with 33 seconds remaining in the half to go up 20-0 when fullback Greg Schuster punched it in from one yard out. Dartmouth had one last chance to get on the scoreboard before the break after a series of quick passes from Park had the team within field goal range. Lyons did not get to attempt the 41-yarder, however, as a botched snap sent the ball off the holder's helmet and the Big Green back to the locker room empty-handed.

"You can't start slow like that," Park said. "If you put yourself in a 20-point hole, it's hard to win any day, no matter how good your offense is."

Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens said he was disappointed with the team's first-half performance.

"I told them that's not the type of football we play," Teevens said when asked to describe his halftime message to the team. "We need to play with more confidence and challenge them defensively. That effort was not indicative of the talent we have."

The Dartmouth offense came out of the break with a new energy and started the second half with an efficient drive for its first touchdown of the game. The drive started off with a screen to Ryan McManus '15, who used some nice blocks for a gain of 15 yards. With the offense seemingly stuck with a fourth and four from the Penn 31 a situation nearly identical to the one that resulted in Reilly's drop in the second quarter Park made a fantastic pass while evading defenders and found Reilly, who this time made no mistake and hauled in the pass for a touchdown.

Reilly ended the day with 115 receiving yards on seven catches, marking the first time a Dartmouth receiver has surpassed the century mark since he accomplished the same feat in October 2010 against Yale University.

The defense followed the offense's example, holding Penn to 116 total yards in the second half after surrendering 278 in the first.

"We knew that they were going to come out and try to run the ball, but we can't have that first half the way it started if we want to win games," Green said.

The game became a battle of field possession for much of the third quarter until Dartmouth was able to strike again with another touchdown, bringing the game within a score with just under nine minutes remaining. Running back Dominick Pierre '14 capped a six-play, 80-yard drive by taking a counter play to the right sideline for a 33-yard score.

"Dominick is just a physical back," Teevens said. "He's a hard guy to get to the ground and he's a good football player."

The Big Green passing offense was in a great rhythm, with the receivers finding good separation moving toward the sidelines and Park making accurate throws on the run. Park finished the day 20-for-29 for a career-high 279 yards.

"He didn't make any big mistakes and did a nice job protecting the ball and giving them a chance to win," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said of Park.

Earlier in the game, Pierre also became the 25th player in Dartmouth history to rush for over 1,000 yards in his career, finishing the game with 19 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown.

The Penn offense proved to be too much, however, and on the next drive, the Quakers converted a pair of third downs with quarterback runs and saw running back Lyle Marsh break out of a pile to score on a 51-yard run. Ragone found wideout Joe Holder on the two-point conversion, giving Penn a 28-14 lead with 5:50 to play.

The Big Green did not disappear, answering with a pass-filled drive of its own that ended with McManus catching a 15-yard touchdown pass from Park to make the score 28-21 with 3:33 to play. McManus caught a short pass near the line of scrimmage and evaded a defender before diving across the goal line for the score. Unfortunately, the Dartmouth defense did not come up with a stop on the next possession, as Penn gained two first downs to run out the clock on a 28-21 victory.

The Big Green has now lost 14 of its last 15 games against the Quakers. The last four games, all Dartmouth losses, have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Dartmouth will now travel to New Haven, Conn., on Saturday to take on Yale (1-2, 0-1 Ivy). The Big Green has not defeated the Bulldogs since 2002 and lost last season's encounter 30-0.