Spring football scrimmage unveils new uniforms, prepares Big Green for fall season
Last Saturday morning marked the culmination of a month of spring practices, as the football team played its annual spring game in front of a strong turnout in Memorial Field, which is still in the process of being renovated. Having experienced a game-like situation — though with non-contact rules — for the first time in over five months, the Big Green will now prepare for a fall season in which they’ll be one of the favorites to win their first Ivy League championship since 1996.
The lofty expectations come with good reason. Next season, Dartmouth will field a team laden with depth and experience, led by one of the most dynamic offenses in the conference. Six starters on offense and nine on defense will return from a successful 2014 campaign that saw the Big Green (8-2, 6-1 Ivy) finish second to Harvard University. Last year 16 players received All-Ivy honors — amounting to 17 total All-Ivy honors, second highest in the conference — and 12 of those athletes will return to the field in the fall. Ten of these all-league honors came on the first team — a record for the College and only the sixth time it has occurred in Ivy League history.
The three most notable returners are quarterback Dalyn Williams ’16 and wide receiver Ryan McManus ’15 on offense and linebacker Will McNamara ’16 on defense. Williams, already one of the best at his position in program history, will look to build on his stellar completion percentage and passing efficiency totals, .675 and 157.57 respectively, that led the Ivies last season, in addition to top-five ranks in passing touchdowns and yards. His primary recipient, McManus, had an Ivy-leading eight TDs and fourth-ranked reception and receiving yard totals. On the other side of the ball, McNamara led the conference with 9.7 tackles per game.
Announced at halftime of the spring game, the team voted these three players as the captains for the 2015 season.
“[McNamara] has been just the heart of the defense, a tough, physical guy, [who] did a great job last year,” head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 said. “[McManus] has been so steady and made such tremendous football plays for us in the past. And then [Williams], with his leadership at the quarterback position, it’s nice to have three guys that the team really respects, the team elected [and] the team feels strongly about, and they’ll lead us forward.”
Leading the first team offense out on the field, Williams continued to develop a strong rapport with his receiving corps and create productive plays in and outside of the pocket, on the ground and through the air. Williams went to his top target in McManus — who still has a year of eligibility because of prior injury and will be a fifth-year senior next season — early to convert his opening first down of the day, following that up with several more first down passing plays between the two. Three possessions later, Williams hit McManus in stride down the left sideline for a pickup of more than 30 yards, reminiscent of the many deep pass plays the two executed during 2014.
Yet this should not indicate that receiving options will be limited. Saturday’s spring game also offered a glimpse into to the burgeoning connection between Dalyn Williams and Victor Williams ’16, who caught the third most yards on the team this past fall. On Saturday, Victor had receptions from Dalyn on each of the four possessions in the first half. Victor made a brilliant diving 13-yard catch in the right corner of the end zone to conclude the first drive. Later, deep in his team’s own territory, Victor hauled in a third down pass for about 35 yards down the sideline and contributed a few more first down conversions along the way.
Houston Brown ’17, who was named the most improved wide receiver of the spring, and tight end Sam Laptad ’16 saw plenty of targets operating in the first-team offense as well.
“I think they’re going to be nice,” Dalyn Williams said of his receiving options for next fall. “We got a lot of experience, got some young guys that need to contribute, but it’s good to have [McManus] back because he’s really good. Our receiving corps is really going to have fun out there, and I’m going to have fun throwing to them.”
Although Dalyn Williams posted a strong throwing effort on the whole, the junior did commit a few costly mistakes. After twisting his way out of the pocket to scramble left on a fourth-down play, Williams fired an ill-advised pass that got picked off by defensive back Troy Donahue ’15 to put an end to his second offensive possession. Two drives later, cornerback Vernon Harris ’16 jumped in front of an intended receiver near the right sideline to intercept Dalyn Williams’ throw and took it back 70 yards for the pick six, the last play of the first half. After two more possessions in the second half, Dalyn Williams’ day was done.
Williams’ dual-threat presence was also on full display Saturday, as the quarterback had a 40-yard draw play run on his first possession and notched a few more first down conversions. As seen in the past, his mobility aided the passing game too, and the multidimensional attacks that produced a top-five rushing touchdown total and 444 rushing yards, which led all Ivy quarterbacks in the fall, should reap benefits again in 2015.
“Today went well, we did a good job of closing out the spring game, we moved the ball effectively,” Dalyn Williams said about his team’s play. “I think we need to do a better job [near] the end zone of finishing. But all in all [we went up] against a very good defense, and there were really good signs going forward.”
Teevens also pointed out the progress he has seen in his star quarterback during this spring.
“Dalyn [Williams] really came along,” he said. “He’s been steady in terms of improvements. [This was] probably his best spring, throws the ball well, makes good decisions. He’s very sharp, and he knows the game extremely well. He’s like [a] coach on the field and reacts well.”
During the spring game, running back Ryder Stone ’18 — who exploded for a combined 173 yards and four touchdowns in the final two games of 2014 — assumed most of the first team carries out of the backfield. With leading rusher Kyle Bramble ’16 still recovering from a leg injury, Stone notched first-down carries in the first two drives of the game. The rushing attack fizzled out thereafter, though, failing to bust into the end zone on three plays in a goal line situation.
The Big Green defense had a strong performance on Saturday as well and will seek to remain one of the conference’s top units next season. In 2014, the team allowed the second fewest points per game (21.0), yielded the third fewest yards (384.2) and grabbed the most interceptions (12) in the Ivy League.
In the spring game, linebacker Brian Fordon ’17 picked off second team quarterback Jack Heneghan ’18 early in the first half. In the second half, Heneghan, after moving the ball well, threw another interception on a tipped ball caught by safety Colin Boit ’18. Toward the end of the third quarter, the defense got into the backfield and jarred the ball loose. Fordon recovered it quickly and found his way into the end zone, the second defensive touchdown on the day — one more than the offense could muster.
Zach Slafsky ’16 was also able to penetrate the backfield well. The linebacker forced Dalyn Williams to throw the ball away under pressure and later batted down a pass attempt, earning the praise of his coach after the game.
Defensive leader McNamara was pleased with how his unit performed and adapted to the game-like action after weeks of practice.
“Our defense played great,” McNamara said. “I felt the temperature was a little different than it’s been all spring. We got a lot more plays out there, a lot more guys coming together and kind of have to work as a team more than we did in the spring because it’s not the same transition. I felt our guys rose to the occasion and made great plays when they had to.”
For special teams, while kickoff and punts did not include full units on both sides of the ball, there were some events of note. After a blocked field goal attempt in the 30-yard range by a backup kicker, Alex Gakenheimer ’17 came on in the third quarter and hit an impressive 50-yard field goal straight through the uprights with room to spare. Gakenheimer’s growth and extensive range should bode well for the fall, as the sophomore’s long for the 2014 season was 41 yards.
“I would say overall the spring went well,” Teevens said. “Sometimes you put it all on the spring game, and the spring game is kind of a heightened sense of awareness, but I thought we were very efficient.”