Champs! Dartmouth beats Brown, will share Ivy title with Yale

by Devan Fink | 11/23/19 5:00pm

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Dartmouth came back from a nine-point deficit to beat Brown, 29-23.

by Sam Hysa / The Dartmouth Staff

Updated: Nov. 25, 2019 at 7 p.m.

Cornerback Isiah Swann ’20 scampered across the white, block-letter “R” in Brown University’s end zone, watched as the ball tipped out of a receiver’s hands and came up with it himself. He was immediately greeted by hugs from the rest of the defensive unit, and deservedly so.

The pick sealed the deal. As the team lined up in victory formation to wrap up the 29-23 win, reality set in. The Big Green (9-1, 6-1 Ivy) had accomplished its preseason goal: For the first time since 2015, Dartmouth won the Ivy League championship. But, with Yale University’s 50-43 win over Harvard University in New Haven, the Big Green was unable to claim its first outright Ivy League title since 1996, and will have to settle for sharing the crown with the Bulldogs.

“Winning a championship is the culmination of everything,” said wide receiver Drew Estrada ’20. “That’s what I’m going to remember, especially since it’s something you can share with other guys, your best friends. There’s not an experience quite like it.” 

The Big Green has now collected 19 Ivy League championships, the most of any team in the conference. The win over Brown was the 105th career victory for head coach Buddy Teevens ’79, breaking legendary coach Bob Blackman’s record for the most in school history.

But if the icing on the cake was always going to come down to a defensive play in the end zone, few players were more deserving of ending the game than Swann. His pick in Providence was his 17th career interception, easily a school record. While picking up accolades, including being named the 2018 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, he has been the heart and soul of the defense. It only makes sense that the season would end with a Swann pick.

Brown played the Big Green tough. For the vast majority of the game, it appeared as if the Bears might be serving as an Ivy League spoiler, just as Cornell University did in Hanover last week. Brown put up the first 10 points in the game, thanks in part to good defense, a missed field goal and solid quarterback play from EJ Perry.

Dartmouth did not even get on the board until midway through the second quarter, when quarterback Derek Kyler ’21 found running back Caylin Parker ’20 down the right sideline with a beat on the defensive back. Hitting him in stride, the two connected for Dartmouth’s first touchdown of the game, keeping the score close at 10-7.

The Bears had quite the response in the third quarter. A short field goal extended their lead to six, and even after Kyler hit wide receiver Hunter Hagdorn ’20 for a 24-yard score to put the Big Green ahead for the first time, Brown remained relentless. A field goal and a Perry one-yard touchdown run brought the Bears back in front, 23-14. Though the Big Green had moved the ball relatively well, it seemed unlikely that the offense would complete the comeback. ESPN’s in-game win probability model gave Dartmouth just a 12 percent chance to win after the Bears built their nine-point lead.

"I'm very, very proud of our guys for their emotional and mental toughness," Teevens said after the game. "Because it would have been real easy to just kind of say, 'Aw, this isn't going well,' after the Cornell loss last week. But a good win for everybody, good win for the College."

Despite the outlook being grim, Kyler buckled down and turned in the best performance of his career, leading the Big Green to victory. On back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, it was the aerial attack that moved Dartmouth quickly into the end zone. With 12:32 to go, Kyler completed five consecutive passes — the first three to Hagdorn for 68 yards, the final two to Drew Estrada ’20 for the remaining 17 yards and the touchdown.

Then, after a quick Brown three-and-out, Kyler continued his outstanding play. Hagdorn and Estrada tore up the field once again, this time alternating short receptions before Estrada found daylight, escaped the defender and waltzed in for a 39-yard score. With a two-point conversion to boot, the Big Green was up 29-23.

“I think my coach did a really good job of getting me in a rhythm, once he realized we were going to try to transition to the pass game,” Kyler said. “Coming in hot, like I have all year, in certain situations, it’s tough to try to get a rhythm real quick, but he was able to build that up for me really fast. So I was able to get a lot of confidence really early in the game. I liked the way I was spinning it, and it just kept going on throughout the game.”

Kyler finished the day 19-of-23 passing for 303 yards and four touchdowns, setting college career-highs in both yardage and scores. Estrada led all receivers with his 14 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns; he finishes the year with 827 reception yards and 1,359 all-purpose yards, with both marks ranking near the top of the Ivy League leaderboard. Hagdorn, meanwhile, had 12 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown.

“You want to be relied on as that guy that can make the plays in the times that we need it, and we needed to make plays,” Estrada said. “Their offense was putting up some points there, and our offensive mindset just turned into, ‘We gotta score every single drive.’"

Both offenses punted on each of the following drives, but Brown found some life as the game clock ran short. A pass interference call moved the Bears inside the Dartmouth 15 with under one minute to play. But a sack and the Swann interception continued the motif of the season: Dartmouth’s defense may bend, but it is hard to break. Perry and the Bears learned that lesson the hard way on the final possession of the game.

Due to Dartmouth’s loss to Cornell last week, which put the Big Green in a first-place tie with Yale, the final outcome of the conference championship required some scoreboard watching. In New Haven, students protesting climate change halted the consequential Harvard-Yale tilt for nearly an hour, so the Big Green had to wait a little longer than expected to learn that they would be sharing the crown. With darkness setting in at the Yale Bowl, the Bulldogs did eventually come back from a 16-point deficit to beat Harvard, 50-43 in two overtimes, with the game ending more than 90 minutes after Dartmouth’s victory.

“It’s tough to look at the fact that we beat Yale 42-10, and we’re sharing the title with them?” Estrada said. “But that’s just how it goes sometimes. We got the championship. You want to win outright, but I don’t think it’s going to take anything away from what we did.”

Though the school in Cambridge did not help the pursuit of sole possession of the Ivy League championship, Dartmouth still has much to celebrate. From the beginning of the season, the Big Green had one goal for 2019, and thanks to a hard-fought victory in Providence on Saturday, that goal has become a reality.