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Dartmouth Football Preview: Big Red, Big Arm Greet Big Green

If a theme were to be picked for today’s Dartmouth College football game, one could do worse than “Bombs Away!” That’s because the Big Green (4-3, 2-2) is visiting Ivy League foe Cornell (4-3, 2-2) and strong-armed quarterback Jeff Mathews, who’s on track to become the Ancient Eight’s all-time passing leader.

The Camarillo, Calif., product is only a junior, but he causes Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens to gush. Mathews completed 35 of 51 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns during last week’s victory over first-place Princeton, the third-highest passing yardage total in Ivy League history.

“He’s in a class by himself,” Teevens said. “As a thrower, he’s as good as anybody in the country, never mind just the Ivy League. He’s got good feet, good intelligence and … he throws all the passes.

“Our secondary has got to play the game of their lives. We need to pressure (the quarterback), like we have not pressured before. And our offense needs to be efficient to keep their offense on the sidelines” The Dartmouth quarterback situation could be of equal concern to the team’s fans. Starter Alex Park suffered a sprain of his non-throwing shoulder against Harvard during the last game and has worn a sling at times this week.

“He’s a question for the weekend,” Teevens said of the sophomore transfer from the University of New Hampshire. “I wouldn’t count on him, but I wouldn’t discount him, either.” That leaves freshman Dalyn Williams as the possible starter. The agile Texan has all the tools and has put up some good numbers, but he’s still learning when to scramble and when to throw a pass away. There have also been problems with him holding the ball too long and taking sacks, but that issue seems to be improving.

If Park can’t go, that would leave untested freshman Thomas Militello as the backup. Militello, a St. Louis-area product who can really sling the football, played at a small school and is being force-fed the more intricate details of the Big Green’s offense. Until this week, he was piloting the scout team against Dartmouth’s first-string defense, but that job has now fallen to Cole Marcoux, a once-touted prospect who was switched to receiver earlier this fall.

“I’m still hoping Park makes it back,” Teevens said.

Teevens may need to cross his fingers and his toes, because his team is substantially banged up. Center Rob Bathe has a sprained ankle.

Linebacker Bronson Green has been wearing a neck collar and free safety Garrett Waggoner is also injured. Defensive end John Golio hurt his shoulder diving after Harvard quarterback Colton Chapple last weekend and a variety of other contributors are nursing bumps and bruises.

“It happens and it happens to everybody,” Teevens said. “The nice thing is we’ve got a little bit more depth than we have had before. The drop-off from (first string to second) is not as appreciable as it has been in the past.” In the past, however, Cornell and Princeton have been among the Ivies’ lesser teams and once Dartmouth got through the Harvard game, it didn’t face an overly stiff home stretch. Now, equal arguments can be made that the Big Green will close with three victories to finish with at least seven for the first time since 1997, or conclude with three losses to fall back to 4-6.

“There’s more balance and parity in the league,” Teevens said. “Harvard is still the most solid and talented team in the group, but after that it’s all fairly close.

“The things that come into play are injuries and the emotional set. Do guys check out at the end of the year? Do they compete right to the end?”

∎ Notes: Dartmouth is ranked 112th out of 121 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams in tackles for loss and is 76th in sacks. Nonetheless, the Big Green is 24th in pass defense. ... Cornell has thrown for 300 or more yards in eight of its last nine games. Dartmouth starts freshman Vernon Harris at cornerback and sophomores and first-year starters Chai Reece and Steve Dazzo at cornerback and strong safety, respectively.

Despite that youth, the Big Green ranks first in the Ivies in pass defense, at 174 yards per game. … The teams are tied for fourth place in the Ivy standings. … Linebacker Michael Runger leads Dartmouth with 68 tackles, but 11 teammates have 20 or more stops this season. … Teevens on the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed in the fourth quarter during last week’s game against Harvard when a Big Green player accidentally hit an official with a thrown football on the sidelines: “It was an absolute joke. It was a soft, underhand toss that hit him in the chest. I sent (a video clip) into the league office. To throw a flag in a critical situation like that. … is unforgivable. My request was to never see that gentleman again.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.