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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Underclassmen show off in football’s narrow overtime victory over Penn

The missing piece of last season, Big Green underclassman, served a vital role in defeating Penn 23-20 this weekend in overtime of the Ivy League season opener

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University of Pennsylvania head coach Ray Priore tried to be tricky when he called a timeout right before first-year Owen Zalc ’27 kicked the game-winning field goal on Saturday afternoon. Needless to say, the “icing” didn’t work.

“I personally enjoy it,” Zalc said, of the other team’s attempt to get him in his head. “It gives me more time to lock in, more time to practice my swing and get ready.”

He wanted readers to know that he would have been ready regardless.

“I mean, even if they don’t call a timeout, I’m ready — I’m always ready,” Zalc added. “So it doesn’t make a difference to me.”

Special teams made the difference in Dartmouth’s 23-20 overtime victory against the Quakers on Saturday.

After forcing a three-and-out on Penn’s first offensive drive of the game, the Big Green’s punt return team — more specifically Nico Schwikal ’26 — had its moment. Schwikal blocked the Penn punt and dove on it at the one-yard line. On the very next play, Nick Howard ’23 rushed it in for the score.

“That was something we really stressed — that we had to come out fast,” head coach Sammy McCorkle said of the play. “Hats off to the defense, three-and-out to force them to have to punt back in their own territory.”

Defense had its own party in the first half, recovering three Penn fumbles and allowing the offense to convert those into 10 points. Over the course of the game, the Big Green defense allowed Penn only 11 rushing yards.

Unfortunately for Dartmouth, Dylan Cadwallader ’23 — typically the passer in Dartmouth’s dual-quarterback system — made an early exit due to injury. Howard stepped up in the aerial game, though, passing for 74 yards and a touchdown to Chris Corbo ’26. Jackson Proctor ’25 also contributed in Cadwallader’s absence, completing seven of nine passes and nearly having a 74-yard touchdown run before it got called back for holding downfield.

“Proctor did a phenomenal job,” McCorkle said. “Regardless of where he is on that depth chart, he continues to prepare himself, and it paid off.”

That touchdown to Corbo came with 44 seconds remaining in the half, and then defensive end Joe Onuwabhagbe ’26 forced and recovered the Quakers’ third fumble on the Penn 20-yard line. Zalc, who has now earned Ivy League Football Rookie of the Week honors the last two games, kicked a time-expiring field goal to put Dartmouth up 20-10 at the intermission.

Penn wouldn’t claw back until halfway through the fourth quarter when quarterback Aidan Sayin, who threw for 357 passing yards on Saturday, connected with a receiver for a 16-yard touchdown pass to put the score at 20-17.

McCorkle reflected on the drive, which included a 52-yard pass down the middle, and how the Big Green will adjust going forward. 

“I don’t get caught up on the yards — you just can’t give up big plays,” McCorkle said. “But there was a big play here, big play there, busted assignment here, busted assignment there — that’s the part we’ve got to fix.”

What the Big Green couldn’t fix was the reliability of Penn punter Albert Jang, who came in as Penn’s long-distance kicker, making a 51-yard field goal to tie the game with just over a minute remaining.

In overtime, Dartmouth remained composed, forcing a three-and-out before Penn missed its 42-yard field goal. When it was the Big Green’s turn, Zalc did not miss his, sending his 37-yard game winner straight through the uprights.

While Howard thanked his freshman kicker, he also appreciated Proctor, who replaced Cadwallader in two ways.

“Hats off to Proctor for being ready to step up both as a quarterback and a holder when [Cadwallader] went down,” Howard said. “Obviously, it proved to be a really important part of the game there at the last kick.”

Howard’s words to Zalc and the other underclassmen who came up big on Saturday — Onuwabhagbe, Schwikal and many others, including Patrick Campbell ’26, who stepped in for an injured Jordan Washington ’25 — were positive as well.

“We definitely battled through some adversity last year with a lot of that inexperience and a lot of the injuries,” Howard said. “But I think it’s only helped our team for this season … You don’t get that starstruck look from a lot of the young guys because we’ve been there before.”

While the plethora of injuries was unfortunate last season, it prepared all players on the squad for in-game repetitions. Their success Saturday is proof of that.

“It’s a testament of how those guys prepare,” McCorkle said. “We tell the guys all the time, you’ve got to be ready when your number is called to make those plays.”

This Saturday, the Big Green will be back at it again, hosting Yale University on Memorial Field at 1:30 p.m. Yale, who lost its season opener to Cornell University, was the preseason Ivy League favorite and defending champion. Dartmouth, who lost by three to Yale last season, hopes to get its revenge.