Last-minute field goal at Harvard keeps Dartmouth football’s title hopes alive
The victory sets up Dartmouth for a decisive matchup versus Princeton University at home on Friday night, with the Tigers leading the conference at 7-0 and the Big Green at 6-1 in second place.
Saturday's win was Dartmouth's third consecutive against Harvard.
Dartmouth football traveled to Harvard Stadium this past Saturday to take on the Harvard University Crimson. With both teams near the top of the conference standings at 5-1 apiece, this win was critical for the Big Green to remain in the race for the Ivy League championship. After a back-and-forth affair full of big plays on both sides of the ball, the Big Green walked away with a nailbiter 20-17 victory, extending its record on the season to 6-1, trailing only the undefeated Princeton University Tigers in the Ivy standings.
With 49 seconds left in the game and a 17-17 tie on the scoreboard, Dartmouth faced a crucial 4th-and-1 on the Harvard eight yard line. Not for the first time this season, the Big Green’s hopes for the game rested on the right leg of placekicker Connor Davis ’22.
And also not for the first time this season, Davis came through. His kick gave Dartmouth a three-point lead. The field goal would prove to be the game-winner as Harvard kicker Jonah Lipel missed a game-tying attempt into the wind from 53 yards out as time expired.
Davis praised quarterback Derek Kyler ’21 and his other teammates for putting him in a position to win the game and said that he trusted in the decision made by head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 to go for the kick.
“I trusted these guys. I knew [Kyler] would get us down there and — I know I’ve mentioned in the past — I think I have the best snap holder in the league for sure,” Davis said. “I've got the best group of guys on the sideline. … They have full faith in me.”
This win gave the Big Green its second consecutive victory at Harvard and third straight win over the Crimson overall. Its last win in Cambridge also came in dramatic fashion, after Kyler’s “miracle” game-winning hail mary in 2019. The team’s last two victories on the road came following a seven-game losing streak for the Big Green at Harvard Stadium.
“We were walking over here and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t mind this place,’” Davis said. “It’s a great place to play, incredible atmosphere.”
The game got off to a slow start for both offenses, with the first eight drives ending in punts, stretching the initial 0-0 tie into the second quarter.
“The field position stuff doesn’t really bother us,” Niko Mermigas ’21 said. “I thought, from the first series, we were playing, defensively, really fast and really physical. And I think we held that for the majority of the game.”
On the ninth drive of the game, though, Harvard broke the stalemate, putting together an 11-play, 81-yard sequence that resulted in the game’s first touchdown and a 7-0 lead for the Crimson.
Dartmouth responded quickly, though, as Kyler led an eight-play, 75-yard drive on the ensuing possession, tossing a five-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Robbie Mangas ’22 to cap it off, his first touchdown reception of the season. Kyler finished the day 20-for-27 passing the ball with 230 yards and the one score.
The Big Green got a stop on the Crimson’s next possession, receiving the ball for the final drive of the half. Dartmouth drove down to the Harvard 37-yard line, where the offense faced a 4th-and-3 situation. Coach Teevens decided to go for it, the offense picked it up and pushed down to the Harvard 17-yard line, where Davis knocked through a 34-yard field goal to give Dartmouth a 10-7 lead at the half.
The Big Green lead, however, did not last long. On the opening kickoff of the second half, Harvard returner DeMarkes Stradford received the ball and made an 89-yard house call on the return. After the extra point, the Crimson suddenly held a 14-10 lead just seconds into the second half. That would end up being Harvard’s last lead of the day.
Coach Teevens said that the quick score made him second guess his decision making on special teams.
“First thing was, I was cursing myself for not just squib kicking it,” Teevens said. “The nice thing is, we were able to overcome it, in a credit to our players.”
The 14-10 score held in a defensive battle until the last 30 seconds of the third quarter, when Nick Howard ’23, in at quarterback, completed a rare pass attempt — Howard is used more often in the run game in the Big Green offense. The pass was hauled in by Painter Richards-Baker ’25 for a 31-yard touchdown, also his first score on the season. Davis knocked through the extra point and Dartmouth took a 17-10 lead.
Teevens praised Howard’s ability to throw off the Harvard defense.
“He has the capability of throwing the ball, and in a big game like this and critical situations,” Teevens said. “Certainly, it makes people think twice when 17 comes into the game.”
The fourth quarter was defined by the two teams’ kickers, who accounted for all of the remaining points of the game. Lipel first missed a game-tying opportunity from in close, pushing it wide right. The Dartmouth offense could not capitalize on the chance to extend its lead to two scores, and when Lipel got a second chance to even the score at 17, he made it count.That set the stage for Davis’s game-tying boot. After the Dartmouth defense held firm against Harvard’s final drive, the win was secured.
The Big Green will next take the field when undefeated Princeton comes to town on Friday. The game will likely decide the outcome of Dartmouth’s season.