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Dartmouth football wins on last play against Harvard with Hail Mary touchdown pass

  • Masaki Aerts, right, cradles Saturday’s winning catch at Harvard Stadium in the crook of his left elbow, giving Dartmouth a 9-6 victory on the final play of the Ivy League game. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College football players celebrate their 9-6 victory Saturday at Harvard after a 43-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game. Derek Kyler threw to Masaki Aerts, the ball being tipped by a Crimson defender in the end zone.

  • Dartmouth College football players celebrate with their fans Saturday at Harvard Stadium after producing a 9-6 victory during the last play of the Ivy League game. Grant Jaffe (57) points to a post of his face held aloft by one of his friends. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College defensive end Niko Lalos (90) and student coach Jimmy Fitzgerald celebrate their team's 9-6 victory Saturday at Harvard Stadium. The No. 14 Big Green beat its arch-rivals on a 43-yard touchdown pass during the final play of the Ivy League game. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College punt returner Drew Estrada (4) collides with Harvard's Cody Charest while trying to make a catch Saturday during the No. 14 Big Green's 9-6 victory. Robert Crockett III (27) is at left. Dartmouth recovered the ball and won with a 43-yard touchdown pass during the final play of the game. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Dartmouth College quarterback Jared Gerbino is tackled Saturday by Harvard's Haven Montefalco. The Big Green senior appeared to injure a leg during the play late in the second quarter and did not return to action. Dartmouth won, 9-6. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/2/2019 5:43:55 PM
Modified: 11/15/2019 1:49:41 PM

ALLSTON, Mass. — The football arced through the golden sunlight Saturday before what remained of a crowd of 20,112 at Harvard Stadium. Dartmouth College football coach Buddy Teevens wondered if his Derek Kyler’s 43-yard, Hail Mary pass would ever descend.

When it did, tipping off at least one Harvard defender and landing in the crook of Big Green receiver Masaki Aerts’ left elbow, it completed a 9-6 victory and possibly the wildest finish during the program’s 138 years. Dartmouth is 7-0 overall and 4-0 in league play and clashes with defending Ivy champion Princeton (7-0, 4-0) at Yankee Stadium next weekend.

“It took forever to come down,” Teevens said of the touchdown toss, which occurred on the final play of the arch-rivals’ 123rd meeting. “Then it’s ‘Did that really happen or am I dreaming?’ To see the joy in the eyes of the players and in the stands … I’ve never been involved with a game like that, where you win on a final, desperation pass. We’ve thrown a bunch up but never caught one.”

Kyler, who has seen the lesser time of a platoon with Jared Gerbino this season, completed 11 of 18 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. He had one throw intercepted and was his team’s leading rusher with 17 yards in eight carries. The visitors had only 52 rushing yards in 25 carries.

Gerbino, who didn’t play after appearing to suffer a leg injury late in the second quarter, completed 11 of 16 passes for 88 yards and had a toss picked off.

Drew Estrada caught 11 passes for 97 yards and Hunter Hagdorn hauled in seven for 58 yards. Davis Brief punted six times for an average of 30.5 yards and had a game-high 13 tackles. Harvard’s Jake Smith completed 17 of 28 passes for 170 yards and Devin Darrington ran 25 times for 102 yards.

Kyler engineered a 96-yard scoring drive with a minute remaining. Three completions and a 4-yard scramble later, the junior had six seconds to work with on the final play.

That type of up-for-grabs heave, which Dartmouth and Harvard (4-3, 2-2) practice executing and defending on a weekly basis, was designed to begin with Kyler rolling right, but he encountered two defenders upon doing so. Somehow skittering out of their clutches, the quarterback avoided another tackle, crossed to the field’s other side and chucked the pigskin into the end zone.

“Honestly, I don’t know how I got out of that,” Kyler said. “I knew I couldn’t take a sack, so I just threw it into the crowd.”

Watching from the sideline, standout linebacker Jack Traynor hoped against hope.

“You try to never believe that it’s done, but it wasn’t looking great,” Traynor said. “Kyler got swallowed up and somehow squirted out and then it was hard to know if any of us grasped what was really happening.”

Dartmouth, which won the first game played at Harvard Stadium in 1903, triumphed in the aging horseshoe for the first time since 2003 and gave Teevens his first victory on the grounds. The former Dartmouth football star and 1979 graduate was 0-9-1 in the stadium as a coach and 0-2 while a varsity gridiron competitor.

“We have a really special group of guys, and we expect to be there at the end,” said Traynor, a fifth-year senior. “It’s great to see that when things didn’t go our way, there was still a culture of expecting to win. It’s a testament to what we’ve built the last five or 10 years.”

Harvard opened the scoring with a 41-yard field goal from Jake McIntyre during the sixth minute. Dartmouth answered a minute before halftime when Connor Davis’ 42-yard boot barely snuck over the bar and inside the left upright. McIntyre kicked another field goal, this time from 38 yards, five minutes after intermission for a 6-3 lead.

McIntyre missed a 34-yard boot during the second quarter and another from 25 yards, following a rolling snap, with seven minutes remaining. However, the Big Green hurt itself with six penalties and two shanked punts from Brief, one of them following a low snap by Grant Jaffe.

The Big Green’s possession after McIntyre’s second miss ended when Joey Goodman intercepted a Kyler pass at Harvard’s 33-yard line with three minutes remaining. Some fans left, including former Dartmouth quarterbacking standout and 2002 graduate Brian Mann, in town for his bachelor party.

Harvard punted with 91 seconds on the clock, but Kyler was sacked and lost a fumble at his own 10-yard line on the next play. The trickle toward the exits became a flood, but the Crimson rushed four times for six yards and turned the ball over on downs at the Dartmouth 4-yard line.

Harvard coach Tim Murphy, anguished at the postgame press conference, said he didn’t want to risk having a field-goal attempt blocked and returned for a long gain or a touchdown. Murphy admitted, however, that his running backs should have worked harder to stay in bounds and keep the seconds ticking away during the Crimson’s final possession.

“Clock management, in the heat and passion of a game, it can go out the window real fast,” Murphy said.

Kyler started the miracle comeback with an 8-yard completion to Hagdorn, then ran 4 yards for a first down. He hit Hagdorn again, this time for 19 yards, as Harvard sat back in a deep zone. An incompletion was followed by a 22-yard hookup with Estrada and another incompletion, setting up the final play.

“My job was to wait for the tipped ball,” said Aerts, who’s been splitting time as one of Dartmouth’s starting receivers and made only one catch Saturday. “It was really high, and I lost it in the sun for a second, and then I saw one guy tip it and it fell right to me.

“I just wanted to hold on to it and get to the ground and make sure I had it in the scrum. Once I caught it, all my guys were on top of me, screaming in my ear.”

Said Murphy: “To say we got our guts ripped out might be the understatement of the century.”

Notes: Dartmouth defensive line standout Jackson Perry limped haltingly to the locker room after the game, his uniform pants replaced by shorts and with an ice bag on one knee. … The player most closely defending Aerts during the final play was one of Harvard’s two starting defensive ends, Truman Jones, presumably there for his 6 foot 3 height. … The last time Dartmouth won a game while scoring 10 or fewer points? A 6-3 triumph at Harvard in 1996, the last time the Big Green finished a season undefeated. … Dartmouth had its fewest rushing yards since producing 46 at Yale in 2014, in a 38-31 Big Green victory. … Dartmouth’s record streak of scoring at least 21 points in the first quarter was snapped but it stretched its string of games with at least one touchdown to 83. The last time the Big Green didn’t have one came during a 30-0 loss to Yale in 2011. … Spotted in the crowd wearing the game-worn, No. 5 Dartmouth hockey jersey of 1980s ice hockey competitor Joe Gualtieri was his son, Grant, currently a junior at the college. … Harvard leads the teams’ series, 71-47-5. It is the seventh most-frequently contested game in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.




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