Football nearly rallies against Ivy-leader Princeton, but falls 17-14
Down 14-0, the Big Green pulled back to within three with a late touchdown before losing on a failed onside kick attempt.
Courtesy of Paxton Scott
Despite being the team to blemish Princeton University’s 7-0 record in 2021 and at Yankee Stadium in 2020, Dartmouth could not complete the Tiger three-peat this year, leaving New Jersey with a narrow three-point loss to the Ivy League’s top dog. Three of Dartmouth’s four conference losses have been one-score defeats, but this one — a chance to play spoiler against an old-time rival — was arguably its most disappointing.
“Not so good, man,” head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 said of his feelings following the loss.
With Nick Howard ’23 out with injury, Dylan Cadwallader ’24 took the reins of the Big Green offense. The first two drives did not look pretty, both ending in three-and-outs with a net loss of nine yards.
The electric Princeton offense — headlined by the Ivy League’s top two leading receivers by yardage — didn’t take those early punts for granted, scoring a touchdown on each of its two first possessions. After that, though, the Big Green’s defense would hold the Tigers to just three more points.
“It’s good to only hold [Princeton] to 17 points,” rookie defensive back Sean Williams ’26 said. “We just started off a little slower and we ended up bearing down more [in the] second half.”
Then Dartmouth turned up the heat offensively. Zack Bair ’22 rushed for 20 yards on the opening play of the Big Green’s third offensive drive; a series of rushes and a pass advanced Dartmouth to the Princeton 31-yard-line. Determined to do more than score a field goal, Cadwallader found tight end Jace Henry ’24 for a 25-yard reception — and on the following play Henry, a dual-threat QB in high school, took a snap in the shotgun formation and rushed it in six yards for the touchdown. With 1:14 remaining in the first quarter, Dartmouth trailed 14-7.
“He’s been very productive the times that he’s been in,” Teevens said of Cadwallader. “Great confidence — and he hadn’t played a whole lot of football, so the more snaps he takes, the more productive he’ll be.”
Three drives later, the Tigers once again threatened the Big Green defense, pushing the ball to the Dartmouth 12-yard-line.
It was then that Princeton’s party was spoiled. On a routine pitch, the Tigers fumbled the ball and Joe Heffernan ’22 pounced on it, securing a crucial stop for the Big Green.
Despite a 26-yard completion to Henry on the first play of the ensuing drive, the Big Green would ultimately punt from the Princeton 48 with 3:35 left in the half.
From there Princeton executed its offense, matching the Henry completion with two of its own — a 28-yarder followed shortly by a reception for 18. That would place the Tigers on the Dartmouth 12 again, but after failing to advance further, Princeton settled for a field goal.
Dartmouth then kneeled the half to completion.
On the second half’s opening drive, the Tigers looked strong, advancing all the way to the Dartmouth 17 thanks to a series of acrobatic catches. The Tigers’ red zone luck once again ran dry though, as they unsuccessfully attempted to convert a fourth and five.
“That felt real good,” Williams said. “Those red zone stops — getting off the field in those situations — always feel the best.”
But the Big Green would have equally bad luck, advancing all the way to the Princeton 15 on the heels of strong plays and a Tiger tripping penalty before Ryan Bloch’s ’23 32-yard field goal attempt strayed far right.
Three drives later, the Tigers once again got in scoring range, but couldn’t convert. Over the course of five first downs, Princeton found itself at the Dartmouth 18, but a sack on third down forced a difficult 42-yard field goal attempt. Rather than attempt the kick, the Tigers elected to run a fake field goal, but the play was quickly blown up by Quinten Arello ’23.
By the time Dartmouth got the ball back with 2:46 in the game remaining and trailing by 10, the game seemed out of reach. But the Big Green offense — now under the command of third-string quarterback Jack Proctor ’25 — put together a nice drive nonetheless, traveling 78 yards over 14 plays, capped off by a Paxton Scott ’24 diving touchdown catch.
That would leave 16 seconds remaining, leading Bloch to attempt an onside kick in an effort to regain possession, but the kick was recovered by Princeton. The Princeton receiver was almost smashed by an incoming Bair, but missed opportunities — of which both teams saw plenty — don’t count in football.
The offense didn’t need a reminder of that message, with Scott calling attention to the inconsistency on the Big Green’s attack.
“I think one of our biggest problems is being inconsistent,” Scott said. “There were some drives where it felt like everything was clicking and then other times where we’d just go three and out. And I think since we’re still kind of a young team, we don’t know how to replicate that stuff every drive. But I think it’s starting to click a lot better.”
On the road, against the last undefeated team in the Ivy League, with the league’s leading defense, Dartmouth almost had it, falling just short in a 17-14 battle to the wire.
One can only think what might have happened if Dartmouth hadn’t been suffering from the rash of injuries it has been this season.
“I think we have like 35 guys hurt right now,” Scott said. “We’ve never had that happen before, [but] we’ve had a lot of young guys step up and play really well.”
Teevens and Williams also pointed out that young players getting experience isn’t the worst thing in the world.“TThe experience is gonna come,” Williams said. “So there’s for sure hope for me and all the other younger guys that are playing.”
And, though the offense played well, it will be interesting to see which quarterback gets the start from here on out. Teevens said the decision to hold back Howard was set prior to Saturday.
“Yeah, just cumulative effect of the earlier season, just kind of nagging things,” Teevens said. “So I thought it was prudent to keep him out of this game and hope that he’ll have an opportunity in the upcoming weeks.”
Next Saturday, the Big Green will look to take down the Cornell University Big Red at 1 p.m. in Ithaca, N.Y. That game, like this week’s, will be broadcast on ESPN+.