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Don Mahler: Big Green Makes a Statement

Hanover — They will be replaying this one for years on the Dartmouth College football DVD player up in Buddy Teevens’ office.

They’ll replay it for former players. They’ll replay it for alums and they’ll replay it anytime the Big Green needs a motivational moment.

Yes, that 28-24 victory Saturday over Princeton was what Teevens called “a statement game.”

No, the Big Green didn’t win an Ivy League title with this one, but it may have won something bigger and more important: respect.

What Teevens and his gutty band of gridiron brothers showed was that when it came time to put on their big-boy pants and stare down the best team in the Ivy League, the Big Green was up to the task.

Princeton’s NFL-talented lineman couldn’t stop them. The Tigers’ pinball-type offense didn’t bother them. So you couldn’t expect a few injuries to stop Dartmouth, did you?

As quarterback Dalyn Williams said: “This is the last game. How can you sit out? You don’t want that to eat at you. You gotta suck it up.”

You could feel the mood on the field in pregame warmups. As a player, you hardly remember the first game, but you never forget the last one. And this was one game the Big Green intended to indelibly stamp on the program’s psyche.

It was cold and crisp, a biting wind running up and down the field, yet most of the Dartmouth players came out with bare arms. It was almost as if telling visiting Princeton that it was time to bring it on.

A final game in any season is special. This one maybe a little more so. On Monday afternoon, Teevens — the sometimes embattled head coach — got an early Christmas present for himself and his staff when athletic director Harry Sheehy announced that the coach’s contract was being renewed. With that distraction taken away, the team was able to concentrate solely on the task at hand.

The weather played a big part in the game, the wind making it hard to maintain a consistent passing game. But then, as Dartmouth broke a 21-all tie in the second half, the snow gods awoke above Memorial Field and turned the place into a revival for White Christmas.

Princeton quarterback Quinn Epperly admitted how difficult the conditions became, saying he couldn’t see the signals being flashed in from the sidelines. Truth was, you could hardly follow the ball in the air on Princeton’s final three plays.

“It was a classic,” said a hoarse Teevens post game. “It’s the image we project — guys in the woods, tough guys. This is what we do up here. The nastier the better.”

Dartmouth had hoped to be playing this game for a piece of the title themselves, and but for a few missteps that might have happened.

Look at this season:

Butler — Scored a lot of points, but needed an incompletion in the end zone on the game’s last play to escape with the win.

Holy Cross — Lost by a field goal in the game’s final minute in what would become a repeat performance.

Penn — A valiant effort. Had potential game-winning field goal blocked before losing in quadruple overtime.

Yale — A dynamic win over an Ivy foe in front of a roaring Homecoming crowd, followed by ...

Bucknell — A listless performance. Even though the Big Green lost by a field goal, it was a team that had just one win coming in.

Columbia — Did the job, beating a bad team badly.

Harvard — In it the whole way, but in the end, couldn’t hold off Harvard — losing again by a field goal.

Cornell — Another case of taking care of business, in a strong showing on both sides of the ball.

Brown — A preseason favorite, Big Green showed its character earning a must-win decision on the road.

And then came Princeton — with all the hype and sole possession of the Ivy title all on the line. Instead, it was Dartmouth that made all the noise.

There have been victories in the past that sent a message to teams around the league. This one, however, was more than just a message. It was, as Teevens put it, “A statement game.”

And the statement is this: Don’t look now, but the guys in the green striped helmets are back — kicking butt and taking names. Sure, a 6-4 record might have been better than that, but the fact remains these guys never quit on themselves or their coaches. And in the end, they hijacked Princeton’s outright title plans and celebrated themselves on the snow-covered field as if they, instead, were the champs.

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing football,” said Dartmouth defensive end Evan Chrustic.

Those last, hectic final moments, Chrustic said, were nailbiters: “I couldn’t wait for the game to end so we could celebrate.”

Both Chrustic and Williams will return next year off this 5-2 Ivy campaign. And Teevens hopes some of the quality recruits who were on campus visits Saturday and shared in the atmosphere and victory, will decide to become part of the program.

“We have something special going on here,” said Teevens.

Chrustic’s attitude echoes his coach’s belief: “We’re ready to take the next step ... to compete for a championship. The last game speaks for itself.”

So when Dartmouth, with an eye toward competing for the 2014 title, says ‘Wait til next year,’ I’d take it seriously.

This is no mere statement. The Ivy League should know it for what it is: This is meant to be a threat.

And there’s a whole bunch of guys wearing green and white waiting to carry through on it.

Don Mahler can be reached at dmahler@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.