Football thrashes Columbia 59-24, improves to 6-0 on season
The Big Green offense posted 59 points against Columbia Friday evening.
After Dartmouth’s 49-7 victory over Marist College last week, wide receiver Drew Estrada ’20 did not overlook the importance of the Big Green’s upcoming games.
“Columbia just whacked Penn, so it’s going to be another tough game coming up,” Estrada said after the Lions beat the Quakers, 44-6.
Last Friday night in Hanover, however, looked anything but tough. The No. 16 Big Green football team (6-0, 3-0 Ivy) overcame a slow start before doing some whacking themselves, defeating Columbia University (2-4, 1-2 Ivy) by a score of 59-24.
“It was a strange game,” said head coach Buddy Teevens ’79. “A lot of stuff just happened.”
The night started uncharacteristically slow for Dartmouth football, with the Lions’ defense unit forcing a punt and an interception — quarterback Jared Gerbino’s ’20 first of the season — on the Big Green’s first two offensive drives. Columbia’s offense struggled to turn these early fortunes into points, however, kicking only a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Then, the tide quickly turned in favor of the Big Green. Columbia was forced to punt following the Gerbino interception, and Estrada sparked life in the crowd at Memorial Field with an 87-yard punt return touchdown. It was the second-longest punt return in program history.
“We do a really good job on special teams,” Estrada said after the game. “We pride ourselves on that. Tonight, the guys were getting their blocks and holding up just enough to where I could make one guy miss. After I made that guy miss, it was clear and open to the end zone.”
Estrada finished the night with a total of 142 punt return yards, breaking a 52-year-old single-game program record. He entered Friday’s game with 689 all purpose yards this season, ranking second in the Ivy League. All told, he added another 172 versus Columbia, bringing him up to 861 on the year.
“Estrada — he’s very snake-like,” Teevens said. “Just very elusive. You see that as a wide receiver, the subtle nuances, how he dips and weaves. He’s got great vision. He’s a very, very effective football player.”
Dartmouth added another score before the end of the first quarter on a 31-yard field goal, but things really got going in the second, when, following a 16-play Columbia scoring drive, Dartmouth scored four unanswered touchdowns to enter halftime up 38-10. Isiah Swann ’20 returned an interception — the 14th in his college career, a new program record — for a touchdown late in the second.
Then, the last of the four consecutive scores was set up thanks to a beautiful 31-yard pass from quarterback Derek Kyler ’21 to wide receiver Hunter Hagdorn ’20. Kyler and Hagdorn connected on the very next play from 10 yards out to put an exclamation point on the first half.
“I think it’s crazy for a guy who’s on the sidelines the whole game, comes in at two minutes [left in the half], and puts a drive like that together,” Estrada said regarding Kyler. “He’s a great player. He makes the right reads, puts the ball on the money. That throw to Hunter on the sideline was a crazy throw.”
Overall, the second half of play was more competitive than the first, but by that point, the game was already out of hand. Dartmouth scored two more touchdowns to open the half, going up 52-10 just seven minutes into the third quarter.
“It started with the momentum shift with the punt return,” Columbia head coach Al Bagnoli said. “While playing against a good team at home, you find yourself a lot further down than you thought you should have been at that point. Somewhere in that sequence we threw a pick-six, and gave up a big, explosive play. The next thing you know, you’re down 24 points in five minutes. It certainly didn’t go the way we wanted it to go.”
Columbia’s offense did not see a true jumpstart until late in the third, when a 10-play, 71-yard drive capped by a Mike Roussous one-yard rush cut the lead to 52-17. The Lions scored again late in the third to cut the lead to 18.
“We talk about finishing,” Teevens said. “These guys take it to heart, but you’re up 52-10 in the third quarter, you can say a lot of different things, but people, they lighten up. We’re excited about the win, but there are teaching opportunities as well.”
In the fourth quarter, Dartmouth responded once more. Running back Noah Roper ’23 scored his first career touchdown, an eight-yard run, to put the icing on the cake for the big win.
The Big Green last scored 59 points in a victory over Cornell University in 2007. The win was also Dartmouth’s second straight against Columbia, moving the all-time series record to 71-17-1 in favor of the Big Green.
Despite the 35-point margin of victory, the 24 points allowed by the Dartmouth defense was a season high. The Big Green unit came in to Friday’s game allowing just 8.2 points per game, the least in the FCS.
“Guys are legitimately upset that we allowed too many yards, that we allowed too many points, that we turned the ball over,” Teevens said. When they’re self-critical like that, it makes it easier to coach. There’s an awareness. We’ve been in this position before, and we didn’t finish.”
This time, however, Dartmouth hopes to stay strong down the stretch. With the Big Green’s undefeated march continuing on Friday, pressure continues to build to what is shaping up to be the marquee matchup of the season in the Ivy League: Dartmouth vs. Princeton University on Nov. 9 at Yankee Stadium, as the two programs celebrate the 150th anniversary of college football. Both the Big Green and the Tigers remain undefeated, with Princeton narrowly defeating Harvard University 30-24 on Saturday.
Even with this big game looming, Dartmouth looks to stay focused on their next opponent: the Crimson, who have not been an easy out this season with their 4-2 record (2-1 Ivy). The two squads will match up in Cambridge next Saturday.
“We’re not thinking at all about Princeton right now,” Estrada said. “Next game is Harvard. If we don’t win that one, then that game [against Princeton] doesn’t really matter. All focus will be towards playing Harvard. They’re a solid team. They have a solid record, and it’s at their place. It’ll be fun.”