Dartmouth football gets key win over Princeton at Yankee Stadium, 27-10
Drew Estrada '20 gained 43 yards on five rushing attempts.
Updated Nov. 10, 2019 at 12:45 p.m.
NEW YORK — No. 13 Dartmouth football (8-0, 5-0 Ivy) now controls its own destiny.
With its 27-10 victory over No. 9 Princeton University (7-1, 4-1 Ivy) on Saturday, the Big Green now finds itself in prime position to accomplish the goal set at the beginning of the season: Bring the Ivy League championship back to Hanover. If Dartmouth keeps up its hot streak with wins over Cornell University and Brown University in each of the next two weeks, that goal could be turned into reality before students go home for winter break.
But the season-defining moment for the Big Green was never going to involve Cornell or Brown. It was always about Princeton. A year ago, the Big Green and the Tigers found themselves in the exact same position. Both teams were 7-0, and the two schools dueled in a de facto Ivy League title game at Princeton. The outcome was different: Princeton knocked off Dartmouth in a defensive battle, 14-9. The Tigers went on to finish the season 10-0, winning the Ivy League title for the second time in three years.
This time around, everything was different: the play, the atmosphere, and most importantly, the result. The two schools played this round of the heavyweight fight at Yankee Stadium, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the first college football game in recorded history, when Princeton and Rutgers University faced off on Nov. 6, 1869.
“I’m a big believer in that life is a collection of experiences,” said head coach Buddy Teevens ’79. “The more you have, the more full your life is. To have my guys come down, you worry about them being wide-eyed and distracted, but it’s a pretty mature bunch. They care about each other, and they hold each other accountable. But it was fun to walk in and see their eyes all lit up looking out at Yankee Stadium.”
Early in the game, the Big Green defense set the tone for the first half. On the Tigers’ second offensive drive, Princeton quarterback Kevin Davidson rolled to his right, looked for a screen pass and instead found the hands of Dartmouth defensive end Niko Lalos ’20, who waltzed 22 yards into the end zone for the first score of the game. It was the first interception of Lalos’ college career.
“Coming out, we just wanted to get as much pressure as we could on that quarterback,” Lalos said. “He can sling it, so we just wanted to get him off. I saw that flair pass, and the guy cut me, so he just kind of threw it out there. It was there for the taking, so I just tried to make a play, and it worked out for me.”
Davidson looked uncomfortable for the majority of the first half. On the very first play from scrimmage, Dartmouth linebacker Ross Andreasik ’20 sacked him for a loss of nine. Andreasik added another sack midway through the second quarter, and Lalos tacked on one more just two plays later. Altogether, the Big Green defense held the Tigers to just 81 yards of net offense through their first six possessions.
This defensive pressure was the story for the first 29 minutes of the game. Davidson, the Ivy League’s leading passer, struggled to drive Princeton down the field. Coming into Saturday’s game with just three interceptions all season, Davidson threw two — one to Lalos and the other to Isiah Swann ’20 — in the first half alone. The Dartmouth offense turned Swann’s interception into seven points with a one-yard scamper from quarterback Jared Gerbino ’20 to extend the Big Green’s lead to 14 points.
“They have a terrific defense,” said Princeton head coach Bob Surace. “Their defensive line is as good as anybody’s in the country, I’m sure. I haven’t seen anyone better — certainly in the teams I’ve seen so far. They’re very strong, they’re athletic. There’s some things we could have done better, but they did a great job.”
Though the Big Green thoroughly dominated for most of the first half, a fumble by quarterback Derek Kyler ’21 with less than two minutes to go in the second quarter allowed the Tigers to cut into Dartmouth’s lead. Immediately following the takeaway, Davidson hit receiver Jacob Birmelin on back-to-back plays to take Princeton inside the five yard line and then connected with tight end Graham Adomitis for the three-yard score, cutting Dartmouth’s lead to 17-7 at the half.
“I think a lot of guys didn’t think that it actually put them back in the game,” Gerbino said. “I think we all were kind of set on the fact that we were going to come out after halftime and score to put the game away. We didn’t panic. There was a little slip up in the backfield, a fumble, but we just stayed true to each other, stayed true to the game plan, and came through at the end.”
The Big Green opened the third quarter with its longest drive of the game by time of possession, taking twelve plays to move 50 yards downfield in just over six minutes of gametime. A 42-yard field goal from Connor Davis ’22 gave the Big Green a 20-7 lead, but Princeton quickly responded with a short field goal off of a five-and-a-half minute drive of its own to keep the score within 10.
Gerbino put an exclamation point on the evening with a 21-yard touchdown run on the next offensive possession. The touchdown put the Big Green up 17 points — a comfortable lead that it would not relinquish.
And when the fourth quarter clock finally did strike zero, the football team serenaded the Dartmouth fans in attendance with a rendition of the alma mater.
“It’s really just a tribute to the Dartmouth family,” Teevens said. “They care about what you do, football’s important to them, it was fun. Someone mentioned that the kids in the stands — 15 years of coaching Dartmouth, I swear everyone one of them was there. They look a little different now than they did, but there’s a camaraderie and cohesiveness. The Dartmouth people, they’ll travel anywhere to watch. It was fun to see, to look at the sea of green.”
In total, the Dartmouth offensive attack relied heavily on the run game. The Big Green put up a total of 225 rushing yards to just 68 net pass yards. Despite his status for Saturday being unclear due to a leg injury sustained at Harvard last week, Gerbino was the team’s leading rusher — in his 16 attempts, he put up 97 yards on the ground, including the two scores.
“During the course of the week, our training staff did a phenomenal job,” Teevens said. “It didn’t look good last Saturday, but he healed quickly."
But the larger story of the game was the defense. Princeton’s attack became one-dimensional after getting behind early. Davidson threw the ball 43 times, a season-high, but the big plays were largely neutralized by the Big Green defense — he relied mainly on short slants, hooks and screens, and even those did not generate consistent success. His 4.9 pass yards per attempt was, by far, his season-worst mark.
Dartmouth now turns its attention to the final two games of its schedule: Cornell at home next Saturday and Brown in Providence on Nov. 23. The Big Green will be heavily favored to win both games.
“The next two ball games we just have to — repeating myself — finish,” Teevens said. “I think with the maturity of our team, they know what a letdown can be. We’re as good as we play, not as people might say, and that’s it. Enjoy the bus ride tonight, and get back to work tomorrow.”
With a huge win on Saturday, the road to the Ivy League championship will run through Hanover. Dartmouth controls its own destiny.