Estrada leads football to 35-6 win in season opener at Jacksonville

by Addison Dick | 9/23/19 2:25am

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Big Green football, pictured here last season, opened its 2019 campaign with a big win over Jacksonville on the road.

by Sam Hysa / The Dartmouth

The Big Green football squad dominated offensively and defensively in its season opener on Saturday en route to a 35-6 victory over Jacksonville University.

The offense appeared nearly unstoppable in the first half, reaching the end zone four times in the first half. Wide receiver Drew Estrada ’20 had a career day, recording a career-high 104 receiving yards and 235 all-purpose yards. He caught 26-yard and 13-yard touchdown passes from quarterback Derek Kyler ’21 in a great start to his senior campaign.

Quarterback Jared Gerbino ’20 described Estrada as a pure athlete and said the team wants the ball in hands as much as possible. Even with his personal success, Estrada said he was most pleased with starting the season with a win on the road.

“It was a great feeling coming away with those personal accolades, but when it comes down to it, the win is more important,” Estrada said.

Tight end Joe Kramer ’22 excelled in his varsity debut with the Big Green, with his first two catches of his collegiate career going for touchdowns. Gerbino said Kramer is a young, athletic tight end who has consistently improved in practices.

“The game plan was to get him in for a few snaps, and it ended up turning into a big game for him,” Gerbino said. “That’s a great start to his career.”

The dual-quarterback system of Kyler and Gerbino contributed to an efficient passing game. With Jake Pallotta ’20 playing in the fourth quarter, the three quarterbacks combined for 21 completions on 27 attempts for 186 yards and four touchdown throws.

Gerbino said he was pleased with the play of all three quarterbacks in the season opener.  

“We made good decisions, which is a big thing that our coaches stress,” he said. “Nothing was too fancy or over the edge, but we did what we needed to do and stuck to the game plan.”

The running attack was strong as well, with the Big Green averaging 6.3 yards per rush, including a 62-yard jet sweep run by Estrada on the first offensive play of the season. Estrada said offensive coordinator Kevin Daft told him the team would be starting its opening drive of the season with that play call a few hours before the game began.

“It’s kind of a typical play for our offense,” Estrada said. “It was a good way to start the game. I was trying to get in the end zone but got caught there at the end, but it was a good play.”

With the offense cruising throughout the game, the defense dominated the Dolphins, allowing just 99 yards during the first four drives and no points through the first three quarters. 

The Big Green defense played particularly well on third downs, holding the Dolphins to just three third-down conversions on 12 attempts. The Big Green offense, meanwhile, picked up first downs on 11 of 14 third-down plays.

Time of possession was another aspect of the game in which the Big Green gained control. With the game in hand, Dartmouth ran 11 minutes off the clock over two drives, leaving the Dolphins with little opportunity to fight back into contention.

It wasn’t all positive, though. The Big Green fumbled the ball three times, which Gerbino said the team will have to clean up and look at on film.

“We had a few turnovers, but that comes with the fact that we can’t truly replicate that in practice,” he said.

Gerbino said he was happy with the team’s discipline, as the Big Green only committed two penalties for 27 yards. He said the team entered the game anxious to play another team and see game action after a long offseason.

“It definitely helps to have the first game out of the way,” Gerbino said. “We’re going to have to make some improvements.”

Saturday’s win marked the Big Green’s 10th consecutive season-opening victory and the team’s 14th straight non-conference win. The Big Green will play its home opener against Colgate University at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Memorial Field. The Raiders boast the top scoring defense in the FCS from a season ago, which Estrada will present a challenge for the Big Green.

“They have a solid defense,” he said. “It will be our first home game, a night game, so I’m looking forward to this Saturday. It should be a good game.”

Despite the Raiders’ 0-4 start, the team was picked to repeat as Patriot League champions. Gerbino said it will be another test on the schedule and an opportunity to get better before Ivy League play begins the following week with a Friday night road test at the University of Pennsylvania.