Cloudy
58°
Cloudy
Hi 62° | Lo 50°

Big Green’s Exam Break Provides a Different Type of Test

  • Dartmouth College quarterback Dalyn Williams, shown during last week's victory over Brown, leads the Big Green into Saturday's season finale with visiting Princeton.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes

    Dartmouth College quarterback Dalyn Williams, shown during last week's victory over Brown, leads the Big Green into Saturday's season finale with visiting Princeton.
    Valley News — Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Princeton Tigers QB Quinn Epperly #4 in action against the Yale Bulldogs during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, November 16, 2013, in Princeton, NJ.  Princeton won the game, and the Ivy League title, 59-23. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

    Princeton Tigers QB Quinn Epperly #4 in action against the Yale Bulldogs during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, November 16, 2013, in Princeton, NJ. Princeton won the game, and the Ivy League title, 59-23. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth College quarterback Dalyn Williams, shown during last week's victory over Brown, leads the Big Green into Saturday's season finale with visiting Princeton.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes
  • Princeton Tigers QB Quinn Epperly #4 in action against the Yale Bulldogs during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, November 16, 2013, in Princeton, NJ.  Princeton won the game, and the Ivy League title, 59-23. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Hanover — Saturday’s football game between Dartmouth College and visiting Princeton is shaping up to be one heck of a study break for the Big Green.

With the teams’ season finale taking place in the middle of Dartmouth’s final exam period, the hosts need to worry not only about blocks and tackles but blue books and study guides. Just not at the same time.

Once the Big Green has its pads and helmets strapped on, however, motivation shouldn’t be hard to find. Dartmouth hoped to be playing for the Ivy League title in this game, but will have to settle for a chance to force the Tigers into accepting only a share of that crown. Still, there’s been an air of excitement around practice on Memorial Field this week.

“It’s a championship environment,” said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, whose team enters at 5-4 overall and 4-2 in league play. “This game matters. We’re not playing for a championship, but it doesn’t change the approach we take to the game.”

Princeton, which struggled through back-to-back 1-9 seasons in 2010 and 2011, rebounded to 5-5 last fall and is now 8-1 and 6-0. The Tigers can clinch the Ivy title outright with either a victory or a Harvard loss to Yale and have outscored Ivy opponents by 152 points. They have scored 50 or more five times. Junior quarterback Quinn Epperly, 6-feet-1 and 220 pounds, is a deceptive ballhander, tough runner and set an NCAA Football Championship Series record earlier this month by completing his first 29 passes against Cornell.

“They’ve always had talent, but adjusting to the scheme and developing a quarterback took time,” Teevens said. “Now they’re up and rocking (offensively) and they’ve got some got some fifth-year players on the defensive front and some experience (at linebacker). It’s a complete team.”

Here’s some more on Epperly: He’s thrown for 23 touchdowns and run for 17 this season. Two more in each category and he will set his school’s season record in each. Princeton has already set the Ivy season scoring record with 413 points, 19 more than the previous mark.

“The development of their quarterback has made a huge difference,” Teevens said. “He’s a gifted athlete making good decisions, and he runs the ball at 220 pounds, which is bigger than most backs we’ll face. He’ll run it a lot, and he’s not afraid to stick his face in there.”

Epperly throws “a lot of nickel-and-dime-type stuff, but they get a lot of plays off and they’re always moving forward. It’s a challenging offense to defend because they’ll play two or three quarterbacks at the same and spread you out with some whacky formations.”

Dartmouth also plays at a fairly accelerated pace on offense, but is banged up on both sides of the ball. Linebackers Will McNamara and Zach Slafsky aren’t expected to play, along with standout safety Steve Dazzo. Offensively, mobile quarterback Dalyn Williams has somehow stayed healthy, but running back Dominick Pierre and seemingly the entire receiving corps are nursing injuries.

Despite the physical pain suffered from collisions and the mental anguish of having three losses decided by three points and the fourth coming in quadruple overtime, the Big Green presses on.

“There’s a toughness to this group, mentally and physically,” Teevens said. “To deal with some of the frustrations they’ve had and to keep pounding and to not flinch, it’s a wonderful quality.”

It may require every ounce of that toughness to stop Princeton’s runaway locomotive. The Tigers have won eight in a row since losing their opener to Lehigh by a point, and they’re in no mood to split the Ivy championship.

“We do not want to share this title in any way or form,” Epperly told his school’s student newspaper. “I think there’d be no better way to send these seniors out of a season like this, but that’s been the goal since day one — to win a championship — and I think it would leave a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth if we had to share that.”

Notes: Princeton is No. 1 in the Ivies in total offense during league games while Dartmouth is top-ranked in total defense... In 1995, Princeton kicked a late field goal for a 10-10 tie at Dartmouth and won the Ivy title on Memorial Field… Big Green defensive coordinator Don Dobes coached at Princeton for 32 years before being let go when the Tigers’ current staff arrived in 2010. Two of his four children attended the school and son Kevin played for the Tigers… Princeton is seeking its 10th Ivy title and its first outright crown since 1995. The Tigers’ last unbeaten league season came in 1964… The Ivy League doesn’t send its football champion to the national playoffs, which means the No. 19 Tigers won’t get a crack at postseason action… For those inclined to bet on games, one organization has Princeton installed as a 10 1/2-point favorite… Each Tigers football player has worn a No. 42 decal on his helmet this season to honor Dick Kazmaier, the program’s 1951 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who died on Aug. 1… Even if Dartmouth were to post a shutout, Princeton would be the first Ivy team to average 40 or more points during a season… Dartmouth’s senior class can finish 23-17 overall and 16-12 in Ivy play with a victory Saturday. They are the first Big Green class to finish with a winning record since the 2000 group went 22-18 and 16-12. This year’s seniors joined a program that had gone 7-33 during the four seasons before their arrival… Teevens to the Big Green Alert website on his assistants’ reaction to the recent news that his contract will be renewed: “There was sheer excitement and then a bolt to the door to call their wives.”… Justise Winslow, ranked by ESPN as the No. 14 recruit among high school senior boys basketball players, has committed to play at Duke. He is the younger brother of Dartmouth safety Josh Winslow.

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