Big Green football eyes 20th Ivy League championship

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2021 9:44:58 PM
Modified: 11/14/2021 9:44:57 PM

HANOVER — One more win.

All that stands between the Dartmouth College football team and a 20th Ivy League championship is Saturday’s game at Brown.

It doesn’t matter what happens around the league. As long as the Big Green win, they’ll get to hang another banner in Memorial Field.

They’re tied atop the Ivy League standings with Princeton with a 5-1 league record. Should Dartmouth win and Princeton lose its finale at Penn, the Big Green would be the outright champs. Dartmouth is actually assured of a title if Princeton loses — if both teams lost, they would share the title with the winner of the Harvard-Yale game.

But Dartmouth isn’t concerned about those scenarios.

“It feels great, but the job’s not done,” junior quarterback Nick Howard said Saturday after Dartmouth’s win over Cornell. “We have work to do. One more game. (If) we come out, we do our job, we win. That’s what we expect to do. That’s what we prepare to do. And I’m excited to see what happens moving forward.”

Dartmouth has closed in on the championship by playing its best football late in the season.

After getting shut out by Columbia in mid-October, the Dartmouth offense has rediscovered its rhythm. Offensive coordinator Kevin Daft found the right balance between pass and run to keep defenses off-balance, and his quarterbacks are executing at a high level.

Fifth-year Derek Kyler, typically an efficient quarterback, is completing 70 percent of his pass attempts — this best mark of his career. Since the Columbia game, he’s at 78 percent.

Howard enjoyed, by far, the biggest performance of his stellar season on Saturday against Cornell. He racked up 172 yards and four touchdowns, both career-highs. He’s averaging 78.6 rush yards per game with 13 touchdowns, and he’s been Dartmouth’s biggest red zone weapon.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth’s defense is getting stronger by the game. The entire unit has hit its stride, and the Cornell game might have been its best game of the season. Defensive coordinator Don Dobes’ group allowed just 181 yards of offense to the Big Red, and it’s given up nine points per game since the Columbia game.

During that stretch, Dartmouth’s defense has gotten the job done in many different ways. The front seven has dominated the trenches, pressuring the quarterback and leaving little room for running backs. The secondary’s coverage has been solid, even lockdown at times. Senior cornerback Isaiah Johnson’s pick-six against Princeton may be the most memorable defensive play for Dartmouth this season.

And, though it wasn’t a factor against Cornell, the Big Green have come up with some critical stop on occasions when they do bend. They held Princeton to a 1-for-4 night in the red zone. Harvard went 2 for 3 in the red zone. That stop was particularly key. Senior nickel back John Pupel made a tackle for loss on 3rd and goal at the 1, which forced the Crimson to attempt a field goal — which they missed. Those points were the difference in the game.

If Johnson’s interception return against Princeton was the most memorable defensive play of Dartmouth’s season, Pupel’s stop might be the most important.

And despite the strong play, junior linebacker Marques White thinks the defense has room to get even better.

“We haven’t reached our max potential yet,” White said. “We’re getting better game by game. And we just know that if we come out and we play to our best, we are the best. No offense can run the ball, pass the ball on us. We execute the game plan coach Dobes sets out for us. And we come out firing off the ball.”

Every title is meaningful in its own way. Head coach Buddy Teevens is vying for his fifth with Dartmouth, split between his two stints leading the program.

Teevens won’t let his players take the last game for granted. Though Brown is tied with Cornell at the bottom of the standings, the Bears’ offense can cause problems. They’re the third-highest scoring team in the Ivy League — ahead of Dartmouth. If the Big Green are to hang a new banner, they could have to survive a shootout.

He said good preparation will be important in finishing the job this season. And he trusts his team’s culture — carried over by veteran players after missing the 2020 season — to hold up for one last big game.

“The fun thing is to hear how much fun the guys are having, how much the guys love each other, and you see it. It’s sincere.” Teevens said. “It was electric on the sideline (against Cornell) when we played most of our bench. They cheer for each other because they work hard together. It’s a special group of guys. Very, very unselfish.”

Seth Tow can be contacted at stow@vnews.com.




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