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Back on Top: Dartmouth Claims Slice of Ivy League Title

Sunday, November 22, 2015
Hanover — Victor Williams cried quietly, tears slipping down his cheeks. Dave Morrison bawled like a baby in Eric Wickham’s embrace. Dalyn Williams signed autographs and posed for selfies with awestruck children. Around them on the midst of Memorial Field on Saturday afternoon, other Dartmouth College football players, family members and regular old fans celebrated the program’s 18th Ivy League title.

The Big Green needed a comeback to beat Princeton, 17-10, during a somewhat clumsy game that featured seven fumbles, two interceptions and five missed field goals. The Tigers held leads of 7-0 and 10-7 before Dartmouth tied the game on an Alex Gakenheimer field goal with fewer than five minutes remaining. The hosts won it on a 12-yard screen pass in the left flat to running back Kyle Bramble, who bowled his way through a crowd at the pylon.

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Most in an announced crowd of 6,208 went bonkers, chief among them members of Dartmouth’s 1990 Ivy League title team, who were honored at halftime. Also sprinkled throughout the stands were dozens of former players from recent years who helped the program climb from the despair of a winless season in 2008 to this year’s nine-victory campaign. The Big Green shares the title with Pennsylvania, which beat visiting Cornell on Saturday, and Harvard, which won at Yale.

“How fun is that?” Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens exulted to linebacker Will McNamara and receiver Ryan McManus as the seniors joined him at the postgame news conference in Floren Varsity House. Their team finished 9-1 overall and 6-1 in Ancient Eight play.

Said McNamara: “This has been an unreal ride. These are my best friends and it’s kind of bittersweet. We got the championship, but this is the last time we’ll get to play together. It’s great to go out on top.”

Dartmouth’s chances for its first title since 1996 looked bleak in the aftermath of an agonizing, one-point loss at Harvard on Oct. 30. The Crimson were the two-time defending league champions and had won 21 consecutive games, but it stumbled against Penn last week, opening the door for the Big Green, which took down Cornell and Brown after its unsatisfying trip to Boston.

The pregame buildup last week might have frayed Dartmouth’s nerves, however, for its first-half drives resulted in three punts, two missed field goals, two lost fumbles and an interception. The Big Green ran for just 11 yards in the first two quarters and while Dalyn Williams completed 15-of-24 passes for 135 yards, he was sacked four times and had a throw intercepted. Princeton’s lead was only 7-0, but there was a sense that if the visitors struck for the next touchdown, that might be enough to snap their five-game losing streak in the teams’ series.

Perhaps most troubling, Williams was clearly out of sorts, a problem for more than a month. Not only was the Texan not playing particularly well, his body language radiated displeasure.

Chased out of bounds at one point, he appeared to spike the ball in frustration, earning an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“They did a good job of mixing up their blitzes,” Williams said. “I reverted to what I’d say was Freshman Dalyn, which is when things don’t work, I get antsy. I feel caged and I just have to relax. As a team, we had to just keep at it. We have an experienced senior group and we’ve done this before.”

Dartmouth’s Danny McManus returned the second-half kickoff 44 yards to the Princeton 44-yard line. A Williams completion was followed by three Ryder Stone carries, an incompletion and then another Stone run, this one for a 32-yard touchdown. The sophomore started right, then twice cut back against the grain, falling into the left side of the end zone. Gakenheimer added the extra point and the score became 7-7 just two minutes into the third quarter.

Princeton converted a 21-yard field goal on its next drive and Dartmouth’s following possession ended with a Williams fumble at the Tigers’ 29-yard line. Teevens could see his signal-caller was a bundle of stress.

“He was beating himself up over the fumble and I said, ‘Hey, it’s over,’ ” the coach said. “He’s a very passionate and emotional guy, but when we needed him, he settled down and got it done.”

Princeton missed a 40-yard field goal try and the teams twice exchanged punts before Ryan McManus returned one 29 yards to Princeton’s 36-yard line. The senior nearly produced a touchdown, but was shoved out of bounds by the punter. Eight plays later, Gakenheimer knocked through a 22-yard field goal for a 10-10 tie with 4:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Three plays later, momentum seemed to settle firmly on Dartmouth’s sideline. Tigers quarterback Chad Kanoff had a pass intercepted by David Caldwell, the senior safety’s fifth pickoff of the season. The Big Green offense set up at the Princeton 39-yard line with 3:56 showing on the clock and drove to the 21 before Gakenheimer badly missed a 39-yard field goal attempt on which the ball was placed down for him with the laces facing his foot.

The visitors took over with three minutes remaining and had to punt a minute later. Dartmouth began from its own 37-yard line and Williams completed four passes during a six-play drive capped by Bramble’s touchdown. An enormous stroke of luck befell the Big Green when tight end Sam Laptad caught a pass and fumbled, only to be saved by a Bramble recovery.

Teevens called time out before the swing pass to Bramble and a discussion ensued over the headphones with offensive coordinator Keith Clark, standing in the press box. Center Jacob Flores eventually suggested throwing into the flat and the coaches went with it, hoping to make Princeton pay for another all-out blitz.

“Time was running down, and we felt we could catch them,” Teevens said. “The down side is that if you’re sacked, you’re really pushing it with the length of the field goal.”

Princeton coach Bob Surace, who noted that Dartmouth was as good a team as his Tigers faced this season, said his defense knew exactly which play was coming. However, the tackler assigned to cover Bramble bit on the running back’s blocking fake before No. 22 swung out of the backfield.

“He ran by him and then he got blocked,” the coach said of his player. “We could have had a pick six, although with a quarterback of that caliber, he probably would have thrown it away and gone to the next down. It’s frustrating and the way our season’s gone. We were literally in the huddle during that time out saying that they were going to run a screen.”

Princeton (5-5, 2-5) got the ball back with 24 seconds to play, but couldn’t push farther than Dartmouth’s 45-yard line before time expired. Reserve receivers Emory Thompson and Jon Marc Carrier were the first on to the field in celebration and their 100-plus teammates followed in an ecstatic rush. After the players linked arms for their traditional, postgame singing of the alma mater, fans were invited on to the turf to join in the fun.

Dalyn Williams slipped away from the group however, jogging down the front of the west grandstand toward Lebanon Street and stopping in front of his parents and their friends. A man known for his scrambling ability turned rock climber for a few seconds, scaling the concrete face of the recently remodeled structure and disappearing into a group hug.

“If you give your team a chance to win the game and a championship, that’s how you’re going to be remembered,” said Williams, who completed 31-of-45 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown, while having one pass picked off. “That’s why you play.”

Asked if it had sunk in yet that he had competed in his final game for a program he helped resurrect, Williams shook his head.

“Not yet,” he said. “I don’t really want to think about it right now. I want to enjoy these guys. We’re going to go out and party tonight and soak up the moment.”

Notes: McNamara, who led his team with 69 tackles this season, played the final three games with a broken right thumb. ... Princeton’s seven sacks tied the most by a Dartmouth opponent during Dalyn Williams’ career. He was also dropped for a loss seven times during a victory at Yale last season. ... Dartmouth trailed Saturday’s game for 35:23. It entered the contest having trailed for only 10:03 all season. ... Surace said Princeton was either tied or led with five minutes or fewer to play four times this season and lost each of those contests. He added that he views Dalyn Williams as one of the best players in Ivy League history and threw in an aside that Teevens is his wife’s favorite opposing coach. ... Dalyn Williams’ 31 completions were one short of his career high, set at Yale last year. He finished as the program leader in passing yardage (7,458), completions (620), pass attempts (989), completion percentage (62.7) and total yards (8,952). ... Tigers kicker Nolan Bieck, the first team All-Ivy selection last year, entered the game nursing an injury and missed from 40 and 41 yards. He had made each of his four previous attempts from 40 yards or more this season. ... Gakenheimer, a junior who made just 4-of-11 field goal tries this fall, was second team All-Ivy at his position last year, when he hit on 12-of-15 attempts. ... The Tigers began the season 4-1. .... Ryan McManus, who caught 10 passes for 82 yards, said he had a Sunday morning final in a history course on World War I. Dalyn Williams said he had studying to do and papers to finish, but noted he would not be tackling school work Saturday night. “Whichever god you believe in, pray to him to give me energy and strength to do my exams,” the quarterback said jokingly. ... Teevens said 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams sent scouts to watch Dartmouth practices this year. ... The Big Green will graduate seven offensive starters and 10 defensive starters in the spring.

Tris Wykes can be reached at or 603-727-3227.

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