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Short-Handed Dartmouth Holds Off Pesky Brown

Dartmouth College safety Garrett Waggoner tackles Brown receiver Jordan Evans on Saturday during the Big Green's 24-20 victory in Providence, R.I. Dartmouth improved to 5-4 overall and 4-2 in Ivy League play and hosts league-leading Princeton next week in the teams' season finale. Valley News - Tris Wykes

Dartmouth College safety Garrett Waggoner tackles Brown receiver Jordan Evans on Saturday during the Big Green's 24-20 victory in Providence, R.I. Dartmouth improved to 5-4 overall and 4-2 in Ivy League play and hosts league-leading Princeton next week in the teams' season finale. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

Providence, r.i. — As Dartmouth College’s football players massed outside an entrance gate to Brown Stadium on Saturday, their excitement to get the impending Ivy League game against the Bears under way was evident. Some hopped up and down. Others smacked gloved fists against their teammates’ shoulder pads. From deep in the cluster came a baritone shout: “It’s party time! It’s party time!”

The Big Green’s chance for true celebration actually had to wait a couple of hours. When Brown quarterback Pat Donnelly’s attempted pass to Brian Strachan fell incomplete on fourth down from Dartmouth’s 30-yard line and with 85 seconds remaining, the visiting sideline and bleachers erupted in joy over the Big Green’s 24-20 victory over the Bears.

After narrow losses to Holy Cross, Pennsylvania, Bucknell and Harvard this season and playing the last few contests with a roster decimated by injuries, Big Green coach Buddy Teevens could barely keep his emotions in check. Asked if “courageous” was the right word to describe his troops, the 58-year old got out a sentence before choking up and ending a postgame news conference.

“Valor?” the coach said. “They’re relentless and they keep pushing and developing. They like playing with each other.”

It seems clear the vast majority of Dartmouth’s players like competing for Teevens and his staff. Whether they will get the chance to do so again next season remains the figurative elephant in the room whenever one discusses the program’s future.

Teevens is in the ninth season of his second stint at his alma mater and has raised it from an 0-10 record in 2008 to marks of 6-4, 5-5 and 6-4 the past three years, including 4-3 league marks each of the last two seasons. Some fans and observers expected the Big Green to compete for the Ivy title this fall, but whether the team comes close enough for athletic director Harry Sheehy remains to be seen.

Dartmouth is 5-4 overall and 4-2 in league play and hosts Princeton next weekend in the teams’ season finale. The Tigers (8-1, 6-0) clinched a share of the Ivy crown Saturday with a defeat of Yale and can clinch the championship outright with a victory in Hanover or a Harvard loss to Yale on the same day.

Should Dartmouth upset Princeton, it would win five games in Ivy play for the first time since going 6-1 during the 1997 season.

“It’s our last go at it as seniors, and this has been a really special year for us,” said cornerback Chase Womack. “It’s going to be a great battle.”

If so, it will be Dartmouth’s second in as many weeks, for the Bears gave their visitors all they could handle. The Big Green took a 14-0 lead 1:13 before halftime on a 9-yard touchdown catch by Robbie Anthony and a 70-yard scamper by Kyle Bramble, but Brown roared back.

The Bears got a long return on the kickoff following Bramble’s score and capitalized with a 4-yard touchdown pass 48 seconds before intermission. Momentum continued to squat on the home bench to start the third quarter, when Brown scored on the stanza’s first drive for a 14-14 tie, then kicked a 30-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead.

Dartmouth answered with a 2-yard touchdown run from Dominick Pierre with eight seconds remaining in the third quarter. The senior, who hardly practiced in the days leading up to the contest, returned after sitting out earlier portions of the game with a hurt hip. Despite the nagging injury, Teevens had no qualms about sending the powerful Floridian back into battle.

“He can bounce off the initial tackle and keep momentum and pick up first downs,” the coach said. “He sucks it up and keeps playing.”

Brown cut its deficit to 21-20 on another field goal, this one from 31 yards with 11 minutes to play. However, Dartmouth, which has had one of the country’s worst kicking games this season, got a successful boot of its own when freshman Alex Gakenheimer connected from 21 yards with 3:23 to go.

“It’s good to be in the mix,” said Gakenheimer, who took over field-goal kicking duties from Riley Lyons two games ago after the sophomore made just two of his first 10 attempts. “I get pretty nervous before games and during them sometimes, but once I go out onto the field, I’m in my element.”

Brown caused consternation for Dartmouth by returning the ensuing kickoff 31 yards and then completing three consecutive passes. But the Big Green defense stiffened, caused a turnover on downs and allowed its offense to run out the clock.

“I think Dartmouth is tougher, bigger and stronger than they’ve been in the past,” said Brown coach Phil Estes, whose team had the ball for five more minutes than the Big Green and piled up 23 first downs to the visitors’ 13. “You can see how much bigger their offensive line is and … they’re very physical at linebacker and aggressive with their safeties.”

Dartmouth linebacker Michael Runger, who led the Ivies in tackles last season, showed that form again Saturday with a game-high 14. Pierre carried 18 times for 94 yards and a touchdown and Bramble seven times for 81 yards and a score.

Big Green quarterback Dalyn Williams was mostly held in check by a defense intent on keeping his nimble feet in the pocket, but completed 12 of 18 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. He ran 10 times for 20 yards and Jordan Are’, a backup pressed into game action, caught four passes for 23 yards.

Brown running back John Spooney, a five-time Ivy League sprint champion during the indoor and outdoor track seasons, carried 27 times for 166 yards and showed toughness between the tackles.

Notes: Dartmouth didn’t use a host of injured receivers, including Kirby Schoenthaler, Victor Williams and Ryan McManus. The latter, a junior, has been out with concussion problems since early in the season and said he’s unlikely to play against Princeton. That would allow him to eventually apply to the Ivy League for a fifth season of eligibility. … Each of the last five games in the series against Brown have been decided by seven or fewer points. ... Dartmouth improved to 56-31-4 all-time against the Bears.

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