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A Loss, and Many Questions: Dartmouth Left Wondering After Narrow Defeat

Boston — The Dartmouth College football team missed a prime opportunity Saturday night, losing 24-21 to Harvard on a late field goal.

It was a game the Big Green certainly could have won, for Harvard’s starting lineup is dotted with onetime backups, including bespectacled kicker Andrew Flesher, who created the winning points before an announced crowd of 13,470.

The Crimson played with second-stringers at both offensive tackles, center, one receiver slot and tailback. But the latter, diminutive Paul Stanton, scooted for 146 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. His Dartmouth counterpart, Dominick Pierre, entered with a similar average but was held to 67 yards and a touchdown in 17 carries.

“I think I aged 10 years tonight,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, whose team improved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in Ivy League play while dropping Dartmouth to 3-4 and 2-2 and beating the Big Green for a 10th consecutive time. “This is an unbelievable group of kids and the thrill ride isn’t over.”

The result might mean the ride is all but finished for Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, who guided his alma mater to six victories in 2010, five in 2011 and six again last year. The widely held belief coming into the season was that anything less than seven victories would risk a collective pink slip.

The best the Big Green can now produce is another 6-4 finish, but even that would require three consecutive victories to end the season. While next week’s opponent is struggling Cornell, which is 1-6 and 0-4, Brown is 5-2 and 2-2 and beat defending champion Pennsylvania, 27-0, on Saturday. Princeton provides the opposition for the season finale and the Tigers lead the league at 6-1 and 4-0.

Murphy, who has been close friends with Teevens since the two were youngsters in southeast Massachusetts, lauded his pal after Saturday’s game.

“Buddy Teevens is probably the greatest human being I’ve ever met,” said Murphy, who coached under Teevens at Maine early in their careers. “He’s family and he’s done an amazing job at Dartmouth. His players love playing for him and if you ask people who play against them, they’re extremely well-coached and a very tough team.”

Despite Murphy’s plaudits, there’s a sense among Dartmouth fans and observers that the season is slipping away. The Big Green began the campaign as a dark-horse candidate for the Ivy title, but nonconference losses to Holy Cross and Bucknell stung and no team has even shared the Ancient Eight crown with two losses since Princeton did so in 1952.

“There’s really only one way to come back from it and that’s to learn from the mistakes and put it behind you and keep building together,” said Dartmouth safety Steve Dazzo.

Big Green quarterback Dalyn Williams, the 2012 Ivy League rookie of the year, saw his season continue to sink, completing only 11-of-24 passes for 156 yards while having a toss intercepted. The sophomore ran 15 times for 40 yards, but couldn’t get away from the rush on fourth down with 10 minutes to play, taking a 13-yard sack and slamming the ball into the Harvard Stadium turf afterwards.

Williams was yanked at that point, replaced by junior Alex Park, who could complete just 1-of-6 passes for 16 yards and whose final throw was intercepted at Harvard’s 35-yard line with 19 seconds remaining.

“We needed to throw the ball a little bit more productively; we were holding it a little too long,” Teevens said of the switch. “We weren’t productive with the run and we knew we needed to throw the football more. Park can get the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately.”

Harvard scored the game’s first points when quarterback Connor Hempel ran for a 9-yard touchdown and Flesher kicked a 34-yard field goal in the first quarter. Flesher booted another field goal, this one from 32 yards, early in the second stanza to give his team a 13-0 lead. Dartmouth kicker Riley Lyons missed a 26-yard field goal attempt with 17 seconds remaining in the initial period, dropping him to 2-of-10 this season.

Lyons has had little problem with extra points, and added one after a 10-yard Pierre touchdown run in the second quarter pulled the visitors within 13-7. The momentum swung even further in Dartmouth’s direction four minutes after halftime when a dropped Harvard pass in the flat was ruled a lateral and Dazzo returned it 33 yards for a touchdown. Lyons’ second conversion kick made the score 14-13.

“It’s something you practice, never giving up on a play until you hear the whistle,” Dazzo said. “It was definitely a momentum-builder but we couldn’t sustain it.”

Harvard took a 21-14 lead when it executed a version of the halfback option pass, only with receiver and high school quarterback Ricky Zorn chucking the pigskin over cornerback A.J. Dettorre and into the hands of a diving Andrew Berg.

A frightening injury to Dartmouth’s Jon Marc Carrier on the ensuing kickoff return drew attention away from play with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. The freshman was knocked unconscious while carrying the ball, strapped to a stretcher and whisked away by an ambulance with lights flashing and siren blaring.

Teevens said his player suffered a concussion, but never had loss of movement or sensation and was taken to the hospital as a precaution. The coach added that he expected Carrier to return to Hanover on the team bus.

Following the 15-minute delay, Dartmouth responded with a lengthy drive and a 7-yard touchdown run by Pierre’s backup, Kyle Bramble. The Indiana native saw action after Pierre left the game for several series with what appeared to be a minor knee injury.

Dartmouth forced a punt after Bramble’s score and drove to the Harvard 41-yard line, where Teevens gambled on fourth down. After Williams was sacked, Harvard’s Flesher missed a 36-yard field goal try but atoned for it with a successful, 23-yard boot with 48 seconds to play.

Two years ago, Dartmouth was routed at Harvard during an October blizzard. That was a long and miserable night for the Big Green, but Teevens said Saturday’s narrow setback was more painful.

“They all hurt, but to see the time and effort the kids and staff put in, to come down this close, it probably hurts more,” he said. “The little things in a close ball game are the difference makers.

“You don’t sleep well for a couple days after a game like this.”

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