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The Dartmouth
May 18, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dartmouth football impresses in 31-7 rout of No. 16 Princeton

Friday’s win moves the Big Green into a first-place tie with the previously undefeated Tigers with two games left to play for each team.

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Dartmouth never trailed during Friday night's 31-7 home win over No. 16 Princeton University.

Dartmouth football faced off with No. 16 Princeton University on Friday night, marking the 100th meeting between the two programs. The Big Green dominated in every phase of the game, notching a 31-7 victory — arguably the team’s most impressive of the year — and improving its record to 7-1. Dartmouth now stands tied with Princeton atop the Ivy League standings with two games to play.

In recent history, Dartmouth’s matchups with Princeton have proven highly consequential. Two years ago, both teams were undefeated when they met at Yankee Stadium, a game that Dartmouth won 27-10. The year before that, both teams were likewise undefeated when they faced off, but Princeton emerged victorious.

This year, the Tigers were again undefeated entering play, but the Big Green suffered a 19-0 loss to Columbia University on Oct. 22. To maintain any real chance of defending its Ivy League title, Dartmouth had to win on Friday.

Head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 talked about the mood in the locker room headed into a game with such high stakes.

“It was a must-win situation. Everybody knew it. We talked about it openly,” he said. “Obviously, tremendous respect for [our players] … we knew we had to play A-plus football, and we did.”

The Big Green wasted no time getting started. After forcing a Princeton punt on the first drive of the contest, Dartmouth put on an 8-play, 75-yard drive ending in a 37-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Paxton Scott ’24, who managed to stay in bounds as he dove through two defenders to break the plane of the end zone. The touchdown marked Scott’s fourth score of the season.

“I didn't even know he had to jump in the end zone like that until I watched the replay,” quarterback Derek Kyler ’21 said. “So I was watching the scoreboard and I was like, wow, that guy went and made a play for me. So that was sweet.”

The Big Green defense then pushed the Tigers back 13 yards on their next possession, forcing another punt, which did not cross the midfield line. Dartmouth did not waste its advantageous field position, marching back down the field to Princeton’s red zone where Kyler found wide receiver Dale Chesson ’23 in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown, Chesson’s first of the season since returning from injury last game.

Chesson ended the day with five receptions for 61 yards and the score, making him the Big Green’s leading receiver. This performance followed a strong season opener for Chesson at Harvard, where he amassed 72 yards, again on five receptions.

Chesson’s teammates and coach sang his praises following the game, clearly overjoyed to have him back on the field and in the locker room.

“[Chesson] is an explosive man,” Kyler said. “He brings such a great energy and he's just so happy all the time … [Chesson] is a phenomenal athlete and I think everyone's been able to see that, the two games he's been back.”

Princeton picked up its second first down of the game before the end of the first quarter, but soon after play resumed the Big Green defense forced yet another punt.

The Tigers showed some life on defense on the ensuing drive, nearly forcing a three and out at the onset and soon after coming close to forcing a turnover in the red zone. Dartmouth was able to maintain possession though, and the drive ended with a 33-yard field goal from kicker Connor Davis ’22, giving Dartmouth a 17-0 lead with nine minutes left to play in the half.

Princeton was able to answer with a touchdown of its own, but it would prove to be the Tigers’ only points of the game. Facing a chance to cut the Dartmouth lead to 7 points at the end of the half, Princeton kicker Jeffrey Sexton doinked his 27-yard attempt off of the right upright and the Big Green maintained its 17-7 lead headed into halftime.

The second half was defined by Dartmouth’s strong defensive play. After not giving up a score throughout the half, the Big Green had held a Princeton offense averaging 37 points per game entering play to just seven total. Dartmouth was able to consistently apply pressure to the Princeton offense, forcing some bad throws and piling up six sacks as a team.

“On film, they showed a lot,” defensive lineman Shane Cokes ’23 said. “It seemed like being physical with them, especially with the bull rush, worked a lot, so throughout the week, we just focused on that.”

Cokes personally picked up  two and a half sacks against the Tigers.

The offense was able to extend the lead to 24-7 in the third quarter courtesy of a 20-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Jonny Barrett ’23, but it was the defense that put the game away for good. 

On the very next drive, with fewer than 10 seconds remaining in the third quarter and Princeton on Dartmouth’s side of the field, an ill-advised pass found the waiting hands of cornerback Isaiah Johnson ’22, who took it 73 yards to the house for a score. 

“Every week, [Teevens] says the same thing: know your opponents better than they know themselves.” Johnson said. “Going into the film, I told [associate head coach Sammy McCorkle] that anytime I see a receiver two yards outside the hash, they were running the hitch. So they came out for the play, I saw the receiver go two yards outside the hash, and I guessed hitch, and I was right.”

Johnson’s big play was the backbreaker for Princeton. The Tigers were able to put on one more long drive, nearly punching it into the end zone, but turned the ball over on downs. Princeton never threatened to score again.

Dartmouth now faces the task of avoiding a letdown in the final two games of its title defense. The Big Green will next take the field on Saturday at home against Cornell University, whose record stands at 2-6 overall and 1-4 in Ivy play. Two years ago, Cornell upset Dartmouth in a game that the Big Green could have clinched a share of the Ivy League title with a win.

“The loss we had against Cornell, ... nobody forgot about that,” Kyler said. “I don't see us taking our foot off the gas.”