Harvard-Dartmouth on a frigid and rainy Saturday is college football at its finest. Chuck Zodda kicked in many bone-chilling Ivy League contests and he reports on the latest installment in this clash of educational powerhouses playing football for the fun of it.
Saturday was the coldest day so far this fall in Hanover, New Hampshire, for what was arguably the biggest game held in town since Harvard visited back in 1997. This clash of rivals marked the 118th meeting of the Dartmouth Big Green and the Harvard Crimson with first place in the Ivy League on the line.
The weather reports predicted rain and temperatures in the 30s. Calling any type of precipitation “rain” with air that chilly is equivalent to calling a machete a knife; it simply doesn’t do justice to the reality. This is the kind of rain that soaks into your skin, penetrating any layers of attire intended as protection. This is the kind of rain that challenges you to be at your best when everything around you seems to be working against you. This is the kind of rain that teams must endure to win football championships in New England.
Before we go any further, a confession: For me, any concept of objectivity is thrown out when it comes to Harvard Dartmouth football. Yes, I was “just” a kicker. But I played with the Big Green for three years, walking on at the end of my freshman year. There was something in those three years that caused me to stand on top of the Memorial Field bleachers as a senior in a loincloth holding a burning teddy bear before our game against the Brown Bears in order to rally the troops. To attempt to put any type of rational explanation behind that event would be facetious. It is simply something that will always be in my blood.
The game kicked off shortly after 3:30 PM, with Riley Lyons booming a kickoff through the drizzle for a touchback. There is nothing like a good touchback to get me fired up for a game. There may be a dozen people in the world who feel the same way. Unfortunately, the other eleven people appeared to be on Harvard’s offense. Crimson running backs Paul Stanton and Semar Smith marched 75 yards in nine plays, finishing the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run by Stanton. Apparently, the nerds came to play.
On the ensuing drive, Dartmouth took possession on the 30-yard line after a 27-yard return from Kirby Schoenthaler. Quarterback Dalyn Williams completed a 4-yard pass to receiver Sam Laptad and running back Kyle Bramble rumbled for a 2-yard gain, setting up the Big Green with 3rd and 4. Unfortunately, Harvard sacked Williams at his own 27 to force a three-and-out situation, bringing on the punting unit. Not the ideal start to a game, but the boys were still in it and just needed a stop on defense to regain their momentum.
After Andrew Fischer returned a 49-yard punt from Ben Kepley to the Harvard 36, the Dartmouth defense trotted onto the field to try giving their team a lift. While Harvard picked up a first down on runs by quarterback Connor Hempel, the Dartmouth defense came up with a huge sack on the third play of the drive, pushing the Crimson back eight yards. Harvard was eventually forced to punt, and the offense retreated to the sidelines, where they probably looked at math equations.
Now it was time for the Dartmouth offense to make a statement of its own. Dartmouth quickly picked up a first down with their primary option in the passing game, Ryan McManus, snaring a 10-yard pass from Williams. The quarterback used his arm and legs effectively on this drive, leading the Big Green on a 14-play, 72-yard march culminating in a 2-yard Bramble touchdown run. But on a day as cold as this, scoring never comes easily; the extra point was blocked, leaving Dartmouth in a 7-6 hole near the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter belonged to Harvard as they put two more touchdowns on the board, although the Big Green blocked the second PAT. During this stretch, Harvard appeared to lose their starting quarterback to injury, as Scott Hosch replaced Hempel midway through the period. Dartmouth added a late field goal by Alex Gakenheimer, who continued to do Dartmouth kickers proud by remaining perfect for the year. The Crimson led, 20-9, as the teams retreated to their locker rooms for halftime.
Harvard most likely dined on plates of caviar and lightly sipped glasses of expensive wine, I thought, with a Brahms concerto playing softly in the background. I imagined they were given down-insulated coats to help shield their delicate skin from the frigid northern New England air, and talked about whether or not the Winklevoss twins were heroic, evil, or heroically evil. By comparison, I envisioned the Big Green just wanting to get back on the field.
Dartmouth received the ball to start the second half, with Williams, Bramble, and McManus combining to lead the team to the Harvard 5-yard line before the Crimson defense clamped down. After another Gakenheimer kick, Dartmouth trailed the visitors, 20-12. Momentum appeared to be shifting to the Big Green.
Harvard’s next drive featured Hosch leading the Crimson on a 48-yard drive before an interception by Troy Donahue at the Dartmouth 28-yard line. Now was the time for the Big Green to get back in the game.
Unfortunately for Dartmouth, the Harvard defense came up big, forcing a punt after holding the Big Green to only three plays and eight yards. The teams traded punts for the remainder of the third quarter, as it appeared the worsening weather played a major role in keeping the two offenses at bay. Harvard looked particularly cold on their sideline.
On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Dartmouth looked to pass the ball from their own 20-yard line after a Harvard punt. However, Williams was poked in the eye on the play, forcing his exit from the game, and in came backup Alex Park. Harvard logged a sack on his first play from scrimmage. Williams briefly came back into the game after sitting out for a snap, but following just two more plays he was unable to continue and Park returned. The Big Green drive sputtered as the Crimson defense forced another punt.
Harvard then marched down the field, eating up about five minutes of clock time. The Crimson tacked on another three points on the board with an Andrew Flesher field goal to make the score 23-12 with six minutes left.
Dartmouth regained possession at their own 25 and moved to their 41-yard line, when Park attempted a pass to receiver Bo Patterson, who juggled the ball initially. He might have eventually gained firm possession, but Harvard defender Matt Koran immediately stripped him of the ball and recovered it. The officials ruled the play a pass completion and a fumble, and the lack of video review in Ivy League play provided no recourse for Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens.
The Dartmouth defense is a proud group. They put the questionable call behind them and prevented Harvard from picking up a first down, leading to another Crimson punt. The Big Green took over at their own 28-yard line needing two scores in 2:37 to either tie or win the game. Unfortunately, Park was intercepted on the fourth play of the drive to seal the victory for the Crimson, who remain undefeated on the season with Dartmouth now a game behind them in the Ivy League title race.
Despite my personal leanings, this Harvard squad is actually a phenomenal football team. They are well-coached, tough, and athletic (I want everyone from Harvard who is reading this to understand how hard it was for me to write that). The Crimson are worthy adversaries on any day, and a great program that came out victorious against my Big Green this weekend. But Harvard had better not let their guard down. There is still time left in the season, and if there is anything that Dartmouth showed today, it is that they are able to battle and compete, and that anyone not putting forth their best effort is in for a long day.
And by the way, Harvard – we’ll see you down in Cambridge next year. Don’t sleep on us.
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.