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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

‘He’s up there, and he’s damn proud’: Two months after death of head coach, football wins Ivy League title

Former head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 and teammate Josh Balara ’24 died earlier this year. On Saturday, their team became champions.

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Courtesy of Justin Lafleur

Exactly 20 minutes after the referee blew the final whistle in Providence, a smartphone held above the 45-yard line at Richard Gouse Field set off a chain reaction.

In an instant, dozens of players and coaches shot off like sparks, transmitting the fire to onlookers whose Harvard-Yale game streams were ever so slightly delayed. 

At exactly 3:16 p.m., head coach Sammy McCorkle — stoic all year long — finally raised his arms.

Dartmouth had defeated Brown. Yale had defeated Harvard. Dartmouth, for the 21st time, was the Ivy League champion. 

12 minutes earlier, McCorkle called a team huddle on the field.

“I don’t care what happens at the Yale Bowl,” he told his team. “Today, we made history.”

It was a long time coming after a year marked by tragedy for football. On March 16, offensive lineman Josh Balara ’24 died of cancer. That same day, Buddy Teevens ’79 was injured in a cycling accident. On Sept. 19, Teevens died due to health complications maintained from his injuries.

“A lot of people think they know what you guys went through,” McCorkle told the huddle. “They don’t. There is not a program that’s gone through a tougher situation than this one right here.”

At that point, McCorkle had no way to know that Yale would hold off Harvard — he only knew they were up 23-18.

“This wasn’t easy,” McCorkle continued. “BT’s up there. He’s up there and he’s damn proud.”

He sure was. Especially minutes later, when the Big Green, the team Teevens played for and twice rescued as a coach, won its 21st title. 

“You can’t ask for much more,” quarterback Nick Howard ’23 said. “It really did end up in that storybook ending that you romanticize so much as an athlete.”

Howard and seven other teammates decided at the end of last fall to return this season as fifth years, completely unaware of the tragedies the team would face just months later.

“Before the season began, our goal was a championship for Coach Teevens and Josh Balara,” Howard said. “[This] means the world to me and my teammates.”

Howard and the rest of the fifth years have now won three championships apiece — 2019, 2021 and now 2023 — but this one will stand out, McCorkle said.

“They’re all good, but this is different — this is special,” McCorkle said. “We wanted it bad. We wanted it for [Teevens]. And this is for him. This is for KT [Kirsten Teevens] and the Teevens family.”

As the Harvard game drove to its fortuitous conclusion, Howard worked his way around the maze that had formed: different position groups, huddled together in pods, watching the game. As Howard moved, he found his coaches and his father, embracing each with a hug and a message.

Eventually, as the pods tightened and it was clear a final play was brewing, Howard found a spare spot of turf and took it all in.

“I knew, either way, there was going to be a lot going on in the locker room and on the bus ride home afterwards, so I was really just trying to take in the moment,” he said. “Take in my last game wearing a Dartmouth jersey, and really just take a couple of moments to appreciate everything one last time with all my guys around me.”

As the players watched Harvard drop its final pass attempt — 4th and 14 with 44 seconds —  their reaction was about so much more than a failed play.

Howard cried. He shrieked. It all meant so much.

McCorkle refused to watch the final play, but he wanted his players to be able to.

“I was trying to decide what to do,” he told me, laughing. “Because I was talking to [football operations director] Dino [Cauteruccio Jr.], and we knew it was going to be a good 10 minutes after our game.”

Instead of sending everyone into the locker room, McCorkle made the executive decision to keep them on the field.

“I just made a gut reaction,” McCorkle said. “I could see everyone enjoying taking photos together, and I was like ‘You know what, let’s just stay out here.’”

The players — and coaches — are glad they did.

“It was pretty cool, just seeing the reaction after,” McCorkle said. “The delay with everybody’s phones, that was kind of the crazy part. But it was really cool to be a part of.”

During the game, McCorkle tried his best to keep the focus on Brown, he said.

“To tell you the truth, I really did not think once about their game,” McCorkle said. “Actually, the one time I looked up on the scoreboard, I saw there was a score — that Yale was ahead. It was early in the third quarter of our game. I just quickly looked away.”

Once the game was over, though, McCorkle says that changed.

“I really didn’t think about it until after our game, and then I could see everybody bust their phones out,” he said.

Once Yale sealed the victory, the phones shifted from streaming devices to cameras and texting devices. Q Jones ’25 threw on an “Ivy champions” hat and started an Instagram Live. Tevita Moimoi ’24 reached his mother on FaceTime.

Even before the celebration had settled — it would last long into the evening, from the field to the locker room to the bus and then to Hanover — McCorkle huddled his team together once more.

He reminded them how proud he was to be their coach. How meaningful it was, after everything that had happened, to go out like this.

Then, midway through the speech, right as McCorkle, trophy in hand, began speaking about Buddy, Macklin Ayers ’24 hoisted his head coach up in the air.

The title was, after all, for BT. Perhaps Ayers was pushing it just a bit closer to him.