Dartmouth cruises to 31-7 win over Penn in Ivy League opener
The Big Green held the Quakers to a single score and used a strong running game to advance to 3-0 on the season.
The Dartmouth football team used a stout defensive performance and running game to win its third straight game.
Dartmouth football traveled to Philadelphia on Friday to open its 2021 Ivy League schedule against the University of Pennsylvania. The Big Green dominated defensively en route to a 31-7 win, not allowing a single score after the first quarter.
Strong play on special teams — a notable factor in last week’s win against Sacred Heart — was evident again early on against Penn. At the end of the Quakers’ first offensive drive, Robert Crockett III ’22 blocked an attempted punt, tracked down the ball careening away towards the end zone, scooped it up at the goal line and returned it for a touchdown. The extra point was good and the score read 7-0 Dartmouth.
Penn was able to counter Crockett’s explosive play with one of its own, connecting on a 73-yard pass on the first play of the next drive. That set up a short touchdown run with an ensuing extra point tying the game, but it would be Penn’s final point of the night.
From there, the Big Green offense began to operate clinically. The team’s three offensive possessions to end the half: field goal, touchdown and touchdown. The Dartmouth defense, meanwhile, forced two Quaker three-and-outs as the offense continued to extend the lead to 24-7 in favor of the Big Green at the half.
After a big game against Sacred Heart last week, Nick Howard ’23 was again one of the engines of the offense. He carried the ball 19 times — up from only nine last week — for 101 yards and two touchdowns, one in each half. Zack Bair ’22 also had a productive day, amassing 91 yards on just 13 carries and adding a first-half touchdown through the air.
“We felt good about what we could do on the ground,” Howard said. “We were physical at the point of attack and that makes it easy for me, [Bair] or anybody else to run through some big holes and make some plays.”
The coaching staff clearly agreed with Howard, as the run game featured heavily in the win against Penn. Dartmouth racked up 50 carries as a team for 240 yards and two scores. That was complemented by an aerial attack that generated 173 yards and one touchdown on just 23 passing attempts.
“Because we had a great game plan going in, thanks to our coaches, we knew as players we just had to do our job,” Howard said. “Just line up every snap, do what we're supposed to do and execute, and we would be able to win.”
The second half of the game, however, did not go quite as smoothly for the Big Green offensively. The team’s first possession of the second half ended with a red zone fumble from Howard, one of the few moments that Dartmouth looked to be losing control of the momentum of the game.
“Down in the red zone, that can't happen ever again,” Howard said. “That can really change the tone of the game, and because of that we stalled a little bit in the third quarter.”
Luckily for the Big Green, its defense was able to hold serve with Penn, even as the offense struggled to find its way early in the second half. The Big Green forced three consecutive Quaker punts to start the second half, before picking them off on back-to-back drives to put the game firmly out of reach.
Tanner Cross ’22 talked about the mindset that the defense brought to its matchup with Penn.
“We were talking about it all week: They tend to claim that they're the most aggressive team in the league, and that's something that we like to claim also,” Cross said. “So being able to stick it to them in that game and limit the offense pretty significantly was definitely a good feeling.”
Cross made the first interception, which led to an eight-play touchdown drive to give Dartmouth the 31-7 lead that would be the final score. On the next Penn possession, Niko Mermigas ’21 intercepted a ball at midfield, allowing Dartmouth to take over the ball and chew clock before turning it over on downs more than seven minutes later. The Big Green defense forced one more three-and-out for good measure, and that was the game.
“Even though we were up 24-7… it felt like they had a little bit of life,” Cross said. “Having the chance to go up and make that play, it felt like we really swung it back in our favor and ended all of their hopes for the night.”
Dartmouth will next play at home on Saturday for a Homecoming weekend matchup against Yale University. The Big Green will look to remain unbeaten next weekend against the other co-recipient of the 2019 Ivy League championship. Yale’s record stands at 2-1 so far this season.
Mermigas talked about how the Big Green defense was able to largely limit big plays against Penn and said that that will be important against Yale as well.
“They’ve got really fast running backs, some really good receivers and are pretty strong upfront,” Mermigas said. “It's just about keeping everybody on the same page, making sure everybody does their job, and just tuning it up.”