Exhale, Stage Right: Dartmouth Holds Breath Before Securing Opening Win
Dartmouth College quarterback Dalyn Williams unleashes a pass against Butler during the Big Green’s season opener on Saturday in Indianapolis. Big Green tackle Jacob Flores works against Jeremy Stephens (91) in the background. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Dartmouth running back Kyle Bramble, left, bounces outside of Butler defender Jayme Szafranski (24). (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Indianapolis — Whew.
The Dartmouth College football team edged Butler, 30-23, during its season opener Saturday, but it was a game the Big Green could have and perhaps should have won in a waltz. Instead, the visitors were forced to nervously jitterbug their way out of the Butler Bowl, the outcome not fully decided until the final horn.
The Bulldogs exited kicking themselves, for they helped Dartmouth by muffing a punt return and having a pass intercepted in the end zone. The defending Pioneer League co-champions had the ball at their own 6-yard line with no timeouts remaining but stalled at the Dartmouth 34, a Matt Lancaster pass being batted down amidst an end zone mob as time expired.
“We made it far too close,” said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens. “We had a chance to put them away early, and that’s something we need to learn how to do: finish.
“For a first ballgame, there were too many errors, but it’s encouraging that we won. Guys didn’t flinch, and in days past it might have been, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ But for these guys, it was, ‘We’re making the next play.’ ”
Said quarterback Dalyn Williams: “Mentality’s everything in football, and I feel like, if we’d stayed on them, we could have run away with it.”
Dartmouth senior running back Dominick Pierre carried 23 times for 93 yards and three touchdowns despite missing some time with a leg injury. Williams, a sophomore, had 119 yards and a touchdown in 18 carries, a career high. Butler’s Lancaster and a teammate who attempted a halfback option pass completed 42 of 70 throws for 395 yards, the most ever attempted against the Big Green in 132 varsity seasons.
“He’s a great quarterback, and he’s one probably one of the best we’ll face,” said Dartmouth linebacker Bronson Green, whose team took down a Butler squad that won seven consecutive games last year and finished 8-3 after an opening loss in Hanover. “They sprayed the ball all around the field, and that’s a great maturity lesson for our defense, how to stay calm an do our assignments.”
Said Teevens: “We couldn’t get pressure to (Lancaster). We tried three-, four-, five-, six-man pressures, but he just gets the ball out of his hands so quickly.”
Dartmouth opened the scoring four minutes into the game, Williams running in from a yard to cap an 11-play, 64-yard drive. Butler managed a field goal five minutes later, but Pierre capped an eight-play, 65-yard march by scampering 19 yards up the left side and waltzing untouched into the end zone. He later ran a yard for another touchdown, and the visitors led 21-3 after three possessions.
The Big Green led 21-10 at halftime, then capitalized when Butler’s punt returner and a blocker collided midway through the third quarter, Pierre running in for his third touchdown six plays later and Riley Lyons adding the extra point for what appeared to be a 27-10 chokehold.
“That really changed the game,” Williams said of recovering the fumbled punt. “I think, when we came out and scored on the first three drives, we thought it was going to be kind of easy, and we kind of backed off.
“I think we left a little bit on the table, and it’s definitely a wake-up call to fix some things. We sputtered out. They got some key stops and had the crowd behind them.”
Butler (2-2) saw its fortunes dip with seconds remaining in the third stanza. After his team drove 61 yards, Lancaster’s pass was intercepted by strong safety Stephen Dazzo in the end zone. Lyons soon booted a 42-yard field goal for a 30-10 lead. The Bulldogs pulled within 30-16 on another Lancaster touchdown pass with four minutes remaining.
At that point, Williams was relieved by junior Alex Park, who completed three of four passes for 31 yards during one drive, but caused it to end when he fumbled at the Butler 33. That led to the Bulldogs’ final points, a 1-yard rush by Lancaster and the extra point with two minutes to go.
“We hurt ourselves,” Teevens said. “We had a procedure penalty where a wide receiver flinched. We had a holding penalty. When we stayed on schedule, everything was flowing. I rolled the dice in the first half and went for it on fourth down when we should have taken a field goal. They started to have a little bit of hope and completed a few passes.”
Williams came back in for the visitors’ last possession of the game, causing Dartmouth hearts to flutter when he appeared to lose a fumble on the first play. However, he was ruled to have let go of the ball after hitting the ground.
“One of Dalyn’s blessings is he can run the ball, so we went back with him at the end when we needed two first downs,” said Teevens, adding that he still views Park as almost neck-and-neck with Williams.
Dartmouth had to punt with a minute to play, freshman Ben Kepley pinning the Bulldogs at their 6-yard line with no timeouts remaining. Although Butler marched into Big Green territory, its secondary wouldn’t break, safeties Dazzo and Troy Donahue and cornerbacks Vernon Williams and A.J. Dettorre combining to break up several desperate passes.
Williams, last year’s Ivy League rookie of the year, completed 22 of 35 passes for 228 yards, the third consecutive time he’s thrown for more than 200 yards.
“It’s a (victory), but we know we need to put that one away,” said Green, who led his team with nine tackles. “We’re pleased but not satisfied.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.
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