Behind standout rushing attack, Dartmouth takes home Granite Bowl in 38-21 victory over UNH

As a team, Dartmouth rushed for 263 yards and three touchdowns.

by Will Ennis | 10/18/21 2:20am

10-18-21-hocofootball-carolinekramer

Running back Zack Bair '22 missed Saturday's game with a non-COVID-19 illness, but the Big Green's rushing attack still gashed the Wildcats' defense.

by Caroline Kramer / The Dartmouth Staff

In this year’s rendition of the Granite Bowl, the inter-New Hampshire football rivalry between Dartmouth and the University of New Hampshire, the Big Green faced off against the Wildcats on Saturday in Durham. The game was a high-scoring affair with explosive plays throughout from both offenses, but the Big Green was able to walk away with a comfortable 38-21 victory, remaining perfect on the year at 5-0.

Dartmouth now sits tied atop the Ivy League standings with Princeton and Harvard, with all three teams at 5-0. This is the first time since 1968 that the Ivy League has had three 5-0 teams and the first time any FCS conference has featured three 5-0 teams since 2009.

Standout running back Zack Bair ’22 did not suit up for this game, dealing with a non-COVID-19 illness. Coming into this matchup, Bair was the Big Green’s second leading rusher both in yards and carries, behind only Nick Howard ’23, so his absence left a big hole in the Dartmouth offense. Or, at least theoretically, it should have.

Although missing Bair, the Big Green’s rushing attack gashed the Wildcats on Saturday, to the tune of 263 yards and three scores as a team. Howard provided much of that production from his quarterback spot, putting up 96 yards and three scores on 18 carries. By the end of this game, Howard had amassed nine rushing touchdowns on the season, far and away a team-leading mark.

New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell pointed to the rushing attack as a key to Dartmouth’s victory.

“Watching the game from the sideline, they played downhill on us the whole game,” he said. “They ran the ball extremely well, whether it was the running backs … or the quarterback, 17, Howard, they had a really strong, physical presence.”

Dartmouth’s strength in that phase was responsible for the game’s first two scores. The Big Green drove down the field on the opening possession to set up Howard for a six-yard touchdown. 

After the Dartmouth defense stuffed the ensuing Wildcat possession on 4th-and-goal on its own goal line, the offense went to work once again, moving 99 yards down the field and capping off the drive with a second six-yard touchdown run from Howard. 14-0, Dartmouth, early in the second quarter.

“We just felt really good about our game plan that our coaches put together,” Howard said. “And we knew that if we just did our jobs, we’d be able to have some success.”

That gameplan, accounting for Bair’s absence, heavily incorporated Noah Roper ’23 into the rushing attack, marking the first time this season he has had more than six touches. Roper took over the lead back role in this game, picking up 108 yards on 16 carries while adding 15 more yards through the air on two receptions.

“We’ve known that he’s super, super talented and is able to perform like that, but just hasn’t gotten the number of touches to be able to show it,” Howard said. “And he finally did this week, and I think it was really good for him, his confidence, and just his development and growth as a player to finally be able to showcase what he can do. We all believed in him, and he proved us right.”

Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 praised Roper’s work ethic and preparedness to step into more of a featured role in this game.

“He's just been a hardworking dude from the day we got him,” Teevens said. “Tough and physical, we’ve had other guys that have played in front of him, but this was his opportunity and he made a game for himself.”

The rest of the first half went smoothly for Dartmouth, particularly offensively, as the Big Green scored on each of its next three drives of the half, notching two field goals and one touchdown on a reception by Joe Kramer ’22. On the other side of the ball, the Big Green allowed only one score before the half on a 75-yard Wildcat touchdown run. At halftime, the score sat at 24-7, Dartmouth.

Early on in the third quarter, the Big Green added to its lead when quarterback Derek Kyler ’21 found receiver Paxton Scott ’24 at midfield, streaking towards the right sideline. Scott caught the ball and accelerated down the sideline and then, spinning and juking his way through Wildcat tacklers, eventually found the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown. The extra point went through and Dartmouth took a commanding 31-7 lead.

This play was indicative of a larger trend in this game: Dartmouth’s consistent, pounding, rushing attack opened up its passing game. Kyler finished the game with 325 yards through the air — a career-high — and two scores on an 18-for-23 passing line.

“Offensively, our guys were very, very clean in their execution,” Coach Teevens said. “[Kyler] was just on — his calls, adjustments, checks and throws.”

New Hampshire would not go away quietly, though. Following Scott’s big touchdown, the Wildcats’ ensuing two drives saw them break the Big Green defense open for some chunk scoring plays: first a 53-yard touchdown run and second a 48-yard scoring reception, cutting the Dartmouth lead to 10 points, 31-21, before the start of the fourth quarter.

When the game came down to the wire, though, the Big Green defense held strong, forcing punts on New Hampshire’s final two possessions of the game. Add in one more insurance touchdown from Howard — his third six-yard touchdown run of the day — and Dartmouth walked away with a relatively comfortable win.

With this matchup in the rearview mirror, Dartmouth’s remaining schedule will consist entirely of conference play. The Big Green will next take the field in Hanover, facing off against the visiting 4-1 Columbia University Lions on Friday.

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