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The Dartmouth
April 12, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Owen Zalc’s kick lifts football above Princeton, 23-21

The first-year’s fourth 47-yard field goal tied the Big Green single season record. More importantly, it won the game.

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A passerby would have needed only sound to identify who had won.

On one side, Dartmouth players leapt up and down like popcorn kernels, their arms extending to family members and friends in the stands as others serenaded Memorial Field with the singing of “Alma Mater.”

No more than 50 yards away, the voice of Princeton University head coach Bob Surace pierced the sky. His team knelt before him, confronting a loss that may very well have spoiled their championship hopes.

It was only once those Princeton players dispersed from the huddle, flocked into Davis Varsity House, got dressed and boarded the buses that I spoke with Surace. He had declined to attend the press conference to speak with his son on the phone.  

“My son played his last high school game,” Surace explained an hour after the game had finished. We were standing outside the first in a line of four Princeton buses; Surace still held his postgame meal in hand. “He’s one of the better players in the country — they lost a tough one, so I was on the phone with him.”

An hour earlier, Owen Zalc ’27, in now-classic Zalc fashion, hit his fourth 47-yard field goal in the last three weeks to lift Dartmouth to a 23-21 win over Princeton.

“What is it about the number 47?” one reporter asked.

“I wish I knew,” Zalc joked at the press conference. “I guess that’s just where the offense gets me. I just end up wherever the offense ends up. I just do my job whenever I’m there.”

Converting 15 of 19 field goals to tie the Dartmouth single season record requires immense skill. Zalc, for his part, credits more chances to succeed.

“It just means we have more attempts than we’ve had in previous seasons,” Zalc said. “That means I’m getting in the position more often and making the kicks I get the opportunity to kick.”

Even on that last kick — with 1:34 remaining in the game, Dartmouth down one — Zalc considered the kick a fortunate opportunity. That doesn’t mean he didn’t realize the weight of it, though.

“Pregame, everybody’s like ‘Stay quiet, stay locked in,’” Zalc said. “When I get nervous, I talk a lot. Josh Greene can tell you this, I’m chirping in his ear, like ‘Oh my god, we’re gonna kick it. We’re gonna kick it.’”

That’s what he did: Kick a perfect parabola, straight down the middle.

Two quarters earlier, it seemed like Dartmouth was going to lose the game despite recording the first two punches.

On Princeton’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Blake Stenstrom threw a pass that was tipped into the hands of Sean Williams ’26, who returned the interception for a touchdown.

“You could see the energy, you could feel the energy on our sideline when that happened,” head coach Sammy McCorkle said. “We forced them to have to chase.”

Dartmouth, which has played from behind in most games this season, wasn’t done establishing momentum. A strip sack on Princeton’s ensuing possession and then a Dartmouth fake punt led to Zalc’s first field goal of the night, which put Dartmouth up 10-0.

“Guys always bust my chops because I always talk about [the fake punt] and work on it,” McCorkle said. “They say ‘You’re never going to do it, Coach.’ So I didn’t even tell the staff. I just told the punt team.”

The Big Green offense, which picked up just 197 total yards all game, struggled in the first half under Nick Howard ’23 and Dylan Cadwallader ’23. With no more big defensive plays, Dartmouth remained scoreless the rest of the half. Princeton’s two second-quarter touchdowns sent the Big Green into the locker room down 14-10.

A Big Green quarterback promotion for Jackson Proctor ’25 finally gave Princeton a run for its money.

“Going into offense, I told the offense we need a spark — we need something,”  McCorkle said. “So we said we’ve got to put Proctor out there, and let’s see if we can get something rolling.”

The Big Green, which had been 0-8 on third-down conversions in the first half, converted two on the opening drive of the half to score a touchdown and go up 17-14.

“I take it upon myself to prepare each and every week, every day, just to make sure if that situation does happen, I take advantage of the opportunity,” Proctor said.

Princeton responded with a touchdown of their own on the very next drive, and Dartmouth converted a field goal right after that, but the three consecutive scoring drives were balanced out by a stall in subsequent points until Zalc’s field goal.

The game-winning score could have — should have — come earlier. With 5:11 remaining, Princeton attempted a 47-yard field goal that was blocked by Charles Looes ’23, who registered two strip-sacks and four overall on Friday night to tie a program record. The tipped kick fell into Williams’s hands, and he returned it 69 yards to the endzone.

A block-in-the-back penalty, however, negated the score, forcing an offensive drive to set up Zalc’s game winner.

“You could just hear the guys talk about [Zalc],” McCorkle said of the final kick. “It’s just the confidence from the entire team. When we get in that range, they all know we’ve got him. He’s a weapon.”

McCorkle, who did not yet know why Surace had missed the press conference, acknowledged how frustrating it would have been to exit Friday’s game on the wrong side.

“It’s a tough loss,” McCorkle said. “I’m sure it is. They’re in the hunt as well. Obviously, they had their opportunities in their mind to close that game out and win. And those are tough. Those are tough losses.”

Princeton, who had been tied for first in Ivy League play until Friday, dropped to 3-2 conference record and now stands in a four-way tie for second. They’ll need to win out and hope for Harvard, currently at 4-1, to lose.

Back at the bus, Surace didn’t have the frustrated, embittered look those at the press conference may have suspected he would.

“You want to control your destiny,” Surace said. His eyes wandered back to the players on that first Princeton bus. Some were standing, some sitting. All were silent.

“We can’t do that anymore,” Surace continued. “But all we can do is get on this bus and sleep, shake it off and come back Sunday ready to play our best football.”