Football hits the road to face Columbia
At the halfway point of the 2014 campaign, the Dartmouth football team sits in a position it has not experienced in over a decade. Entering this weekend’s matchup at Columbia University, the Big Green boasts a 4-1 record and a perfect 2-0 record in Ivy League play, potentially on track to win its first Ivy League crown since 1996.But the task will be far from easy, with five Ivy games scheduled to test the team over the final stretch of the season. The last time the Big Green was in this position, in 2001, it lost its third Ivy game of the season 27-20 — to Columbia.The Big Green opens the second half this weekend visiting the Lions (0-5, 0-2 Ivy) in the Big Apple for Columbia’s homecoming game. The Lions have struggled in recent years, winless since November 2012.Last weekend, the team fell 31-7 at the University of Pennsylvania after being outscored 17-0 in the second half.The Big Green on the other hand, comes off a 24-21 victory over the College of the Holy Cross. Despite jumping out to 24-6 lead, the Big Green allowed the Crusaders to fight back and turn a seeming blowout into a nailbiter that came down to the final drive.“I think we’re playing well, but I think we could play a lot better,” running back Kyle Bramble ’16 said.For the second season in a row, the defense was forced on the field to stop Holy Cross from mounting a game-winning drive. But unlike last year, the Big Green forced a turnover on downs with less than a minute to go on a sack and three incompletions.“I think it shows that we’re tougher than we were last year,” nickelback Frankie Hernandez ’16 said. “We’ve come up in some big situations like the one we had last week and we’re going to look to keep doing that the rest of the season.”The team practices situations like that one at the end of practice on Wednesday and Thursday, defensive coordinator Don Dobes said, to give players confidence in their assignments under pressure.“Any time you’re in those win or lose situations, it’s always a great learning lesson for the team and the coaching staff so that the next time you’re in them, hopefully you’ve made some of the corrections that you didn’t have either the previous year or the previous week,” he said.Hernandez agreed, noting that the defense could relax having been in the situation before, which helped the unit come up with the stop.“That’s something that we all remembered,” he said. “We played kind of stress free, and we were loose, and we did what we had to do, and it ended up working out for us.”Bramble led the offense with 113 yards rushing — his second 100-yard performance of the season — and Hernandez earned Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week accolades after his performance with eight tackles and an interception on the afternoon.The Big Green only took a 10-6 lead into the break but emerged from the third up 24-6.“The second half we really started pushing them off the ball and spreading the game out a little bit on the outside,” Bramble said.Dartmouth has won five in a row against the Lions in what has been a lopsided series. The Big Green hold a 66-17-1 advantage since the two teams first met in 1899 .“I think we’re confident but not over-confident,” Hernandez said. “We know we’ve done some good things, but we know there’s still a long road ahead of us, so we’re definitely focused. We have some tough games coming up but we’re really excited about that.”Beyond Columbia, the Big Green is set to face undefeated Harvard University the following week in Hanover in what could be a matchup that decides the Ivy League title. The Crimson will play fellow league leader Princeton University this weekend in New Jersey. Despite such an important game on the horizon, the team remains focused on winning this week, Dobes said.“When you only get 10, there is no such thing as a trap game,” he said. “I think we’re too mature to take anything for granted.”The game kicks off at 1:30 p.m. at Robert K. Kraft field in New York.