On Saturday evening, the Big Green lost a heartbreaker to Harvard University after Alex Park ’14’s pass was intercepted by sophomore Jaron Wilson with 19 seconds left in the game.
“It’s as tough, courageous, and resilient of a team as I’ve ever been around,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said. “That’s a really good team we beat. We just made one more play than they did, and we’re just happy to get a win.”
Junior Alex Flesher kicked the game-winning 23-yard field goal with 48 seconds left.
“I felt the kick leave my foot, and it just felt good,” Flesher said. “There was no doubt I was going to miss that.”
Flesher finished three of four on the evening, converting on field goals from 34, 32 and 23 yards out while missing another 32-yarder.
The story of the day was the Dartmouth (3-4, 2-2 Ivy) defense, which successfully contained the explosive Harvard (7-1, 3-1 Ivy) offense for most of the day, holding the Crimson to its lowest point total all season.
Harvard still outgained Dartmouth by nearly 100 yards, 413-318, thanks to sophomore Paul Stanton’s 26 carries for 146 yards.
Junior Connor Hempel was stymied most of the day but still picked up 70 yards and a score on 17 carries while completing 18 of 27 for 135 yards.
Dartmouth’s running game was very effective, as Dominick Pierre ’14 and Kyle Bramble ’16 tallied a score each. Pierre finished with 17 carries for 67 yards, while Bramble ran seven times for 36 yards.
Additionally, Jon Marc Carrier ’17, who helped Dartmouth to cruise to victory last week over Columbia, was carted off the field with a concussion in the third quarter. Carrier was knocked unconscious while carrying the ball.
Unfortunately, Park and Dalyn Williams ’16 were unable to sustain a consistent passing attack, combining for 12 of 30 for two interceptions. Williams never hit his stride on the ground, keeping the ball 15 times for just 40 yards.
“We needed to throw the ball a little bit more productively, we were holding it a little too long,” head coach Buddy Teevens said of the switch. “We weren’t productive with the run and we knew we needed to throw the football more. Park can get the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately.”
Harvard’s defense harassed Williams all evening, sacking him twice and hitting him another seven times. Eventually, Williams’ slow performance prompted Teevens to replace him in the fourth quarter with Park, who had a hard time finding a rhythm during his limited action.
Dartmouth looked to be in danger by the end of the first quarter, falling into a 13-0 deficit that could have just as easily been 21-0 if not for a crucial stop and a few lucky false start penalties on Harvard.
On Harvard’s second possession, Hempel guided the offense 52 yards for a touchdown which he scored on a nine-yard keeper up the middle.
Dartmouth drove all the way down to the Harvard nine but missed the 26-yard field goal wide left, giving Harvard the ball at its own 20 at the end of the first quarter.
On Harvard’s first play from scrimmage after the missed field goal, Stanton took the handoff and raced 63 yards down the left sideline before being tackled at Dartmouth’s 11. It looked like Harvard would increase its lead to 17-0 but two false starts caused a third-and-11. Harvard could not convert, forcing Flesher to kick the field goal and increase the lead to 13.
The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds. Dartmouth took advantage of the short field as Williams found Cole Marcoux ’14 for 41 yards, setting up Pierre’s 10-yard scoring plunge.
Dartmouth entered halftime trailing 13-7 and received the opening kickoff of the second half. Dartmouth, however, went three and out and punted.
At the Harvard 37, Hempel threw to his left to freshman Bo Ellis who could not make the catch. The referees ruled the pass a lateral and declared the ball live. Stephen Dazzo scooped up the live ball and sprinted 33 yards untouched for the touchdown, giving Dartmouth its first lead against Harvard in six years.
“I was just making an alert play,” Dazzo said. “We never give up on a play. If the ball’s on the ground, pick it up and keep moving.”
Harvard responded right away, scoring after an 11-play drive that spanned 75 yards. Hempel picked up the first on a fourth-and-one with a quarterback sneak. On the next play, Harvard ran a reverse to senior Ricky Zorn, who heaved the 32-yard scoring toss to Andrew Berg just inside the back of the end zone.
“We’d been practicing it all week, and Berg wasn’t really open when I was getting ready to throw the ball,” Zorn said. “I thought I overthrew him, but Berg came up to me before the game and said, ‘If they call that play and I’m double or triple-covered, you have to throw it.’”
A successful two-point conversion put Harvard on top 21-14. Dartmouth responded with its own scoring drive. Williams immediately connected on a 44-yard pass to Patterson, after Pierre left the field with an injury.
Dartmouth then relied on the combined ground efforts of Williams and Bramble, including a fourth-and-five play in which Williams dove just far enough for a first down at the nine. Bramble completed the 13-play, 78-yard drive with a seven-yard run right up the middle, tying the score at 21.
Harvard’s final game-winning drive killed nearly five minutes off the clock and forced Dartmouth to use all three timeouts before Flesher converted the chip shot that put Harvard on top for good.
Wilson intercepted Parks’ pass on the ensuing drive to ice the game with 19 seconds left.
“Disappointing result,” Teevens said. “The guys played hard.”
Dartmouth’s impressive defensive effort was led by Michael Runger ’14, who led the defense with 14 tackles, while Mike Banaciski ’14 shored up the defense with another 10 stops. Zach Slafsky ’15 registered the sole sack for Dartmouth’s defense to go with another seven tackles. “They all hurt, but to see the time and effort the kids and staff put in, to come down this close, it probably hurts more,” Teevens said. “The little things in a close ball game are the difference makers. You don’t sleep well for a couple days after a game like this.”
Saturday’s defeat means Dartmouth now has two conference losses this season, and it likely cost Dartmouth a chance at the Ivy championship. Only twice since the Ivy League formed has a football team won the title with two conference losses, the most recent coming in 1952, when Princeton University and Dartmouth shared the championship.
A crazy set of circumstances must occur for Dartmouth to have a shot at the title. First, Dartmouth must sweep its final three games, including the season finale against Princeton (6-1, 4-0 Ivy), who is currently undefeated in Ivy play. The University of Pennsylvania or Yale University must defeat Princeton to hand the Tigers its first conference loss. If Penn (4-3, 3-1 Ivy) upsets Princeton, Penn will need to lose to either Harvard or Cornell University and if Harvard defeats Penn, it is unlikely to lose to Yale (4-3, 2-2 Ivy) or Columbia (0-7, 0-4 Ivy).
Dartmouth returns to Hanover next Saturday to face Cornell, routed 53-20 by Ivy League frontrunner Princeton University. Kick-off will be at 4 p.m. at Memorial Field.