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This story has a catch: Big Green still giddy as Princeton clash arrives

  • Dartmouth College receiver Masaki Aerts, second from right, prepares to catch a Hail Mary pass from Derek Kyler on Nov. 2, 2019, at Harvard. The Big Green's 9-6 victory allowed the visitors to remain undefeated this season. (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, from left, Caylin Parker, Seth Simmer, Jake Guidone and Drew Estrada sing their school's alma mater after defeating Harvard, 9-6, on Nov. 2, 2019. The Big Green used a desperation pass on the last play of the Ivy League contest to remain undefeated. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College defensive end Niko Lalos stands in disbelief with the Harvard band in the background on Nov. 2, 2019. The Big Green used a 43-yard pass on the Ivy League contest's final play to win, 9-6, and remain undefeated. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College safety Niko Mermigas (24) celebrates victory with receiver Drew Estrada (4) on Nov. 2, 2019, at Harvard Stadium. The Big Green used a Hail Mary pass on the Ivy League game's final play to win, 9-6, and remain undefeated. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College student Max Telemaque, center, shouts in jubilation on Nov. 2, 2019, after the Big Green football team defeated host Harvard, 9-6, with a touchdown pass on the game's final play. Telemaque is a reserve lineman on the team but was not part of the travel roster and therefore traveled to Harvard Stadium on his own. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2019 9:37:50 PM
Modified: 11/8/2019 9:38:56 PM

HANOVER — Derek Kyler might have been the only person sitting down in Harvard Stadium last Saturday as the final play between his Dartmouth College football team and the archrival Crimson concluded.

Having rolled right and then scrambled left, the quarterback threw a 43-yard desperation pass toward the open end of the concrete horseshoe and tumbled to the artificial turf. From his rear end, Kyler watched the ball soar and descend, carrying with it the hopes of an undefeated season and an Ivy League title.

“I threw it in the opposite direction of my momentum, so I almost threw myself out of my shoes,” the junior said after Tuesday’s practice and in advance of Saturday’s clash with Princeton at Yankee Stadium. “I couldn’t believe what happened, so I had to look at everyone else’s reaction before I got up and ran down there.”

What happened was the ball was tipped upward at the goal line before landing in the crook of Masaki Aerts’ elbow. The junior fell to his left with Harvard’s Truman Jones on top of him, and the pair remained entangled as a pile of jubilant Dartmouth players grew atop them.

“He was grabbing my arm and trying to rip the ball out, but I had possession the whole time,” said Aerts, whose team prevailed, 9-6, in front of what remained of an announced crowd of 20,112, for Dartmouth’s first victory at the stadium since 2003. It was Aerts’ first career touchdown reception and set up a meeting of undefeated teams for this weekend in New York.

Dartmouth has shifted focus to its matchup with the Tigers, one considered by most to be the de facto Ivy League championship game. But earlier in the week, Big Green players were still a bit giddy about how they’d improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in league play while winning their ninth consecutive contest.

“My phone’s been blowing up,” Kyler said, noting he’s had texts and calls from people he hasn’t talked to in years. “It’s been pretty hectic, and I couldn’t go on Instagram without seeing it everywhere. It’s been a neat experience I might never have again, so I’ve been soaking it all in.”

Dartmouth’s last possession began at its own 4-yard line with a minute to play. Its previous two possessions had ended with an interception and a fumble. However, Harvard did itself no favors with poor clock management, leaving the visitors a sliver of opportunity despite having exhausted their timeouts.

Three pass completions and a short run later, the Big Green had time for a final play. Center Evan Hecimovich snapped the ball and slid left before seeing his quarterback under duress from a pair of Harvard linemen and a linebacker.

“I blocked one of them and then felt two bodies hit my side and thought for sure Derek had been sacked,” Hecimovich said. “I look up, and he’s still standing somehow. I turned around just in time to see him toss it up, and it seemed like it was 30 seconds waiting for it to come down.”

Kyler danced away from three tacklers before running toward the opposite sideline and uncorking his pass. Don’t take a sack and don’t throw it out the back of the end zone were the thoughts in his mind.

Downfield, Dartmouth receivers Aerts, Drew Estrada, Jonny Barrett and Hunter Hagdorn jockeyed for position, attempting to form a diamond shape with one player at the goal line, another behind him by about 5 yards and two wingmen on either side. Instructions are to tip the ball up if you can’t catch it cleanly, while defenders are taught to spike the pigskin into the turf.

Instead, Harvard defenders Wesley Ogsbury and Isaiah Wingfield collided while jumping for the ball, and Wingfield tipped it upward. It flipped backward past the Crimson’s Jones and directly to Aerts, who had momentarily lost the ball in the sun during its initial descent.

“I was in shock,” Estrada said. “I’ve never been part of a play like that.”

Also stunned was former Dartmouth player and broadcast commentator Wayne Young.

“I couldn’t add much,” the local attorney said later. “My brain couldn’t process it all quickly enough.”

Dartmouth’s players and coaches poured off the sideline in celebration — minus former Big Green running back Curt Oberg, now a special assistant to head coach Buddy Teevens. The 1978 graduate had torn a calf muscle leaping in exultation and was now rooted to the spot in pain.

Estrada said reality didn’t soak in until the bus ride home to Hanover. Aerts scrolled through social media, noting that ESPN’s SportsCenter show had tagged him by name on an Instagram post. Emotionally exhausted, the receiver finally darkened his phone and took a nap.

Once home, many of Dartmouth’s players attended a Halloween theme party at Gamma Delta Chi, a fraternity with a heavy gridiron presence among its members. Kyler didn’t have a costume planned, so his teammates assembled a pair of horns and a goat mask for him to wear, befitting his new status as “the greatest of all time” among Dartmouth quarterbacks.

“Everyone was super juiced-up,” Kyler said. “How could you not be?”

Notes: Saturday’s game is a home contest for the Big Green, which agreed to move the event to the Bronx at the suggestion of Tigers coach Bob Surace. … No. 13 Dartmouth and No. 9 Princeton meet with undefeated records for the second consecutive year. The Tigers won last year’s clash, 14-9, and went on to capture the league title. … Saturday’s game celebrates the 250th anniversary of Dartmouth’s founding and the 150th anniversary of the first recognized college football game, played between Princeton and Rutgers. … Dartmouth quarterback Jared Gerbino, injured just before halftime at Harvard, practiced this week, and Teevens asserted the senior will be available to play against the Tigers. … Princeton has won 17 consecutive games since losing its 2017 season finale at Dartmouth. … The teams have each won six of their seven games this season by double digits. … Only two teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision have allowed fewer points than Princeton: Dartmouth (10.1 per game) and No. 1 North Dakota State. … The Big Green has never played at either the old or new Yankee Stadium, although it did practice at the former in 1965 and 1969 before games at Princeton. … Teevens has won 103 games at his alma mater, one shy of program leader Bob Blackman. No other Dartmouth football coach has won more than 60 games. … Dartmouth’s 51 yards rushing at Harvard was its fewest in five years, but it extended its streak of scoring at least one touchdown in a game to 83. … Saturday’s kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m., with a national television broadcast on ESPNU.

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




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