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A State of Denial: Big Green Refuses Tigers a Solo Title

  • Dartmouth College safety Troy Donahue (7) embraces a teammate on the sidelines as time expires during the Big Green's 28-24 defeat of Princeton on Saturday. Frankie Hernandez (49) and other players celebrate in the background as heavy snow falls on Memorial Field. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Dartmouth College safety Troy Donahue (7) embraces a teammate on the sidelines as time expires during the Big Green's 28-24 defeat of Princeton on Saturday. Frankie Hernandez (49) and other players celebrate in the background as heavy snow falls on Memorial Field. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth College tight end Dean Bakes can't hold a pass Saturday against the defense of Princeton's Garrit Leicht and during the Ivy League teams' season finale at Memorial Field.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes

    Dartmouth College tight end Dean Bakes can't hold a pass Saturday against the defense of Princeton's Garrit Leicht and during the Ivy League teams' season finale at Memorial Field.
    Valley News — Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth College cornerback Vernon Harris makes a snow angel Saturday in the aftermath of his team's 28-24 victory over Princeton at Memorial Field. The result, combined with Harvard's victory at Yale, forced the Tigers to share the Ivy League title.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes

    Dartmouth College cornerback Vernon Harris makes a snow angel Saturday in the aftermath of his team's 28-24 victory over Princeton at Memorial Field. The result, combined with Harvard's victory at Yale, forced the Tigers to share the Ivy League title.
    Valley News — Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth College safety Troy Donahue (7) embraces a teammate on the sidelines as time expires during the Big Green's 28-24 defeat of Princeton on Saturday. Frankie Hernandez (49) and other players celebrate in the background as heavy snow falls on Memorial Field. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Dartmouth College tight end Dean Bakes can't hold a pass Saturday against the defense of Princeton's Garrit Leicht and during the Ivy League teams' season finale at Memorial Field.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes
  • Dartmouth College cornerback Vernon Harris makes a snow angel Saturday in the aftermath of his team's 28-24 victory over Princeton at Memorial Field. The result, combined with Harvard's victory at Yale, forced the Tigers to share the Ivy League title.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes

Hanover — Dartmouth College athletic director Harry Sheehy gazed upward late Saturday afternoon, a look of wonder on his face.

“This is spectacular,” Sheehy said, gesturing upwards at the snowflakes falling on Memorial Field and the scoreboard glowing at its far end. “What a perfect scene.”

It certainly was if you were a Big Green supporter, for the home team’s 28-24 defeat of No. 19 Princeton, combined with Harvard’s victory at Yale, forced the sullen Tigers to back into an Ivy League co-championship with the Crimson. With Dartmouth’s players, coaches and fans whooping and hugging in a winter wonderland and the visitors trudging off in disappointment, it was hard to tell which was the title-winning squad.

“This was a statement game,” said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, who only last week was told his contract will be extended. “I believe we’re a championship-caliber team, and I told (the players) they had to send a message.”

The Big Green finished the season 6-4 overall but won five games in the Ancient Eight for the first time since 1997. Dartmouth’s four losses included three by three points and another in quadruple overtime. If it had kicked a field goal against Pennsylvania or denied one to Harvard at the right time, Teevens’ troops would have claimed at least a share of the program’s first Ivy crown since 1996.

“I think we’re ready to take the next step and compete for the championship next year,” said defensive end Evan Chrustic. “We could have this year, and we came up short in a few games, but I think this one speaks for itself.”

Dartmouth’s triumph was impressive because it limited a Tiger offense that had scored 50 or more points five times this season and entered already in possession of the Ivy League scoring record. Princeton chewed up defenses all fall, but it sputtered and stalled when confronted with a unit directed by coordinator Don Dobes, who coached at Princeton for 16 years before being ushered out when the current staff arrived in 2010.

“Our defensive staff did a phenomenal job,” Teevens said. “Their guys were knocking down passes and made (Princeton quarterback Quinn) Epperly move his feet. They put it all together.”

Epperly seemed to give Dartmouth only grudging credit, however, insisting that it was his offense’s miscues and not the Big Green’s pressure that caused it to score 22 fewer points than its season average. Princeton entered No. 2 in scoring offense and No. 5 in total offense among NCAA Football Championship Series teams.

“I think it’s more what our offense didn’t do instead of their defense doing anything,” said Epperly, who completed 26 of 53 pass attempts for 242 yards and had one toss intercepted. “Hats off to them, they were very physical up front, but we didn’t execute well enough.”

Bitterness fairly oozed from Epperly, defensive lineman Caraun Reid and Princeton coach Bob Surace. They complained about the Ivy League rule that awards a shared title and doesn’t use head-to-head results as a tiebreaker. Epperly refused to admit that he might one day enjoy the co-championship, in spite of Saturday’s result.

“It’s a terrible way to end a season,” the quarterback said. “This really tarnishes a lot of what we did for the year, and it’s really the low point. We could have controlled our own destiny today and we didn’t, so it was a failure.”

Said Surace: “When we’re fitted for rings, we’ll be excited, but that and today are kind of two different things.”

Dartmouth roared to a 21-0 lead after 19 minutes on a Dominick Pierre 1-yard run, Bo Patterson’s 56-yard touchdown reception and quarterback Dalyn Williams’ 5-yard touchdown scamper, all followed by Alex Gakenheimer conversion kicks. Princeton used a 5-yard touchdown pass and a 1-yard run from Epperly to pull within 21-14 at halftime, then produced a 30-yard touchdown pass for a 21-21 tie midway through the third quarter.

Princeton (8-2, 6-1), which converted 5 of 8 fourth-down chances, couldn’t do so the next time it had the ball, turning it over on downs. That led to a Dartmouth drive capped by Williams rambling through the defensive front for a 17-yard touchdown run and a 28-21 lead with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Princeton had first-and-goal at Dartmouth’s 2-yard line with seven minutes to play, but two incompletions, a short run and a penalty conspired to limit the Tigers to a short field goal that made the score 28-24.

An exchange of punts ensued, followed by the Big Green driving to the visitors’ 24-yard line and turning the ball over on downs with 45 seconds remaining. Epperly, left with no timeouts and in snow so thick he couldn’t see sideline signals, soon had a pass picked off by Garrett Waggoner, sealing the outcome.

Williams completed just 4 of 15 passes for 92 yards and had two throws intercepted, but he carried 14 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Pierre, showing remarkable determination despite various injuries and having to sit out briefly because of them, gained 112 yards and scored once in 28 carries.

Also showing intestinal fortitude was Patterson, who played despite a separated shoulder suffered during a recent practice.

“It’s ridiculous how tough he is,” Teevens said of the South Carolina native, who caught only one pass but also returned four punts. “He’s dislocated both thumbs multiple times this season, he’s had a knee situation and he’s still out there getting hit repeatedly and showing complete disregard for his personal safety.”

Another standout was middle linebacker Michael Runger, who made a season-high 15 tackles. Fellow senior Bronson Green had 11, and cornerback Vernon Harris had nine.

“We have a lot of guys coming back who have played a lot of football, and there’s a toughness and resilience among them,” said Teevens, who completed the ninth season of his second stint at his alma mater. “There isn’t doubt, as there was years ago. I really think we have something special going on here.”

Notes: Pierre became the first player in Dartmouth history to score a touchdown in every game in a season, ran for more than 100 yards for the ninth and final time in his career and is the fifth Big Green player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. … Princeton, which had an eight-game winning streak snapped, ran 104 offensive plays, the most against Dartmouth in at least 40 years. … The Tigers fell short of their first undefeated Ivy season since 1964. … Dartmouth finished third in the Ivies for the second consecutive season. … Princeton’s 409 offensive yards was more than 100 below its season average. … Dartmouth set a school record by breaking up 16 passes, including four by cornerback Chase Womack and three by Chrustic, who added three tackles for a loss. … The Big Green has beaten Princeton four consecutive times, matching its longest winning streak in series history. Dartmouth improved to 46-43-4 against the Tigers.

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

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