Playing in its final out-of-conference game, the football team extended its undefeated streak to five and achieved its strongest start to a season since 1997 at Central Connecticut State University on Saturday. While not playing to its greatest capacity, the Big Green (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) built a lead early and pulled away late en route to a 34-7 victory over the Blue Devils (2-5), marking only the fourth time since adopting a 10-game schedule in 1980 that Dartmouth swept through its non-conference slate in a season.
Though non-conference games do not count toward the Ivy League title, the team still had high energy for the game, Victor Williams ’16 said.
“You have to attack it as if it’s just another game,” Williams said. “We want to be perfect, and we want to be undefeated, and for that, every game counts the same.”
The Big Green got off to a quick start, and Dartmouth never trailed in the matchup. After the Dartmouth defense yielded just two yards and forced Central Connecticut into a three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, quarterback Dalyn Williams ’16 resumed where he left off last Saturday against Yale University. On the first offensive play from scrimmage, Williams launched a 44-yard pass down the left sideline that found Jon Marc Carrier ’17 in stride for the easy touchdown, just over a minute into the game.
“Coming in, we wanted to take a shot and be aggressive on offense,” Carrier said. “I was in the slot, and Victor Williams was on the outside. We ran two seam routes and with Victor [Williams] playing so well the last two weeks, the [defensive backs] sort of keyed on him.”
Even before the play, the offense had a good feeling about the opening results of the drive, Carrier said.
“Dalyn [Williams] looked at me before the play and said, ‘Touchdown,’ and I just nodded my head,” Carrier said.
For the remainder of the quarter, however, the Big Green offense could not reproduce its early proficiency. While the defense forced three-and-outs on three of four CCSU possessions and allowed just one non-penalty first down, Dartmouth — apart from its touchdown throw — managed less than 50 yards through the first 15 minutes.
Much of this resulted from the Blue Devils throwing off Dartmouth’s offensive rhythm early on. Constant blitzes and quarterback pressure prevented adequate time to stand in the pocket for Williams, who had to scramble in the backfield more often than usual as a result, and got brought down twice in the half. On the team’s second possession, Williams fired a pass to the left corner of the end zone but got picked off by cornerback Brandon Hollomon. For the first time this season and in 238 attempts dating back to last year, Williams threw an interception.
On top of this, five first-half penalties for 45 yards — one of which the defense committed and most of which came in the first quarter — played as much a role in deterring early offensive progress.
With both teams mired in uneven play into the second quarter, the Big Green defense provided a crucial jolt to the game’s flow as it often has this season. After a failed fourth down conversion by the Big Green inside opposing territory, Blue Devil quarterback Tavion Pauldo wildly underthrew a long pass route down the middle, as Dartmouth safety David Caldwell ’16 picked off the throw and returned the ball 26 yards to the CCSU 36-yard line. Logging in his sixth forced turnover on the year, Caldwell has now averaged more than a turnover a game and notched one in each of his team’s contests.
Short but effective pickups followed on offense as Dartmouth swiftly covered the short field and positioned itself within striking distance. On first and goal from the eight-yard line, Williams rolled out to his right and fired across his body to Cameron Skaff ’18 for the touchdown and a 14-point lead.
“That’s a play we had been working on in practice and we got to bring it in,” Dalyn Williams said. “It was a simple boot pass with a built-in throwback. I got out wide, saw their corner lured in and their safety was out of position. I just put it where only the tight end could get in and Cameron [Skaff] made a great catch.”
In what would ultimately become its best drive of the entire game, Central Connecticut found offensive success on its next possession. Gaining 40 yards on the ground and 55 in total across a stretch of 3:39, the Blue Devils could not capitalize, however, and remained scoreless after a 33-yard missed field goal.
Instead, it would be left to the home team’s defense to put CCSU on the board. A few drives later after a punt pinned Dartmouth at its own one-yard line, the worst possible outcome occurred. Running back Kyle Bramble ’16 received the first down handoff but got swung down in the backfield — which in this case was the end zone — and coughed up the ball, as Blue Devil Carlton Nash recovered the fumble to cut into Dartmouth’s lead 14-7.
By halftime, despite being the only side to show competence offensively, Dartmouth had allowed a weaker opponent to stay close. The Big Green held a decisive 191-122 edge in total yards, as Dalyn Williams had already thrown for 146 yards and two touchdowns off 12-19 passing, with Victor Williams — with five catches for 79 yards — representing the primary target. The stats unquestionably pointed to Dartmouth as the better team, and that edge would soon manifest in more points.
Two lengthy but strong offensive drives opened things up for the Big Green in the second half. On the first possession, an effective pass-run mix moved the ball 63 yards in five minutes for the team. Despite culminating in a missed field goal, the offense had demonstrated important strides in puncturing through the CCSU defense. During its next offensive drive, Dartmouth methodically worked its way downfield from its own 44-yard line, capped by a one-yard run from Ryder Stone ’18 as the visitors reclaimed a two-touchdown lead.
Two drives later, Dartmouth further separated itself. After a poor Blue Devil punt returned the ball to the Big Green at the opposing 23-yard line, Dalyn Williams weaved his way on a run to the one-yard line on the next play. Getting jammed at the line by a strong CCSU defensive front twice, Stone finally punched the ball into the end zone on his third attempt and notched his second score on the day. A missed extra point ensued, but Dartmouth had accumulated a 27-7 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
The scoring concluded later in the final quarter when, after a 35-yard strike to Ryan McManus ’15, Williams found Skaff alone in the end zone for a three-yard touchdown. The easy catch marked the fourth time that the quarterback and tight end connected for a score over the last two games. For Williams, the day ended with 249 yards in the air, three touchdowns and a pick, as well as 60 yards on the ground. Three different receivers totaled over 50 yards, as Victor Williams led the way with 95.
As stout and opportunistic as ever, the Dartmouth defense enjoyed yet another excellent performance on Saturday afternoon. The unit yielded just 225 yards on a 3.8 yards-per-play average, in addition to grabbing two picks — a late third quarter one by Will McNamara ’16 in addition to Caldwell’s — and recording four sacks. Out of CCSU’s 14 total possessions on the day, five ended on three-and-outs, two on turnovers and one because of the halftime whistle, meaning only a handful of Blue Devil drives lasted more than three plays. Three of these came when Dartmouth already had a three-touchdown lead.
“The entire defensive line played really well,” Vernon Harris ’16 said. “They just made it easier for the whole defense by stopping the run and getting a good pass rush.”
The Big Green next takes the field on Saturday at 3 p.m. against Columbia University. The Lions are 1-4 on the season thus far and winless in the Ivy League.
With its final non-conference game out of the way, the team has five games remaining in the season against Ivy opponents to determine who will take the League championship. Columbia University will come to Hanover this Saturday to kick off against the Big Green at 3 p.m.