Big Green go off the rails

  • Dartmouth Quarterback Nick Howard, 17, returns to the sidelines with congratulations from Gavin Muir, middle, and Jackson Proctor, right, after scoring a touchdown against Harvard during the Big Green's homecoming game in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. Harvard won 28-13. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — James M. Patterson

  • Dartmouth quarterback Dylan Cadwallader looks for a place to go with UNH's Nathan Kapongo barreling toward him, ultimately registering a sack, during their game on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth lost, 14-0.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — Jennifer Hauck

  • Dartmouth football head coach Buddy Teevens watches his team in the second half of their game with UNH on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth lost, 14-0. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/21/2022 9:20:50 PM
Modified: 11/22/2022 9:49:05 PM

HANOVER — Coming off a four-season stretch in which the Dartmouth College football team won 35 of 40 games and captured back-to-back Ivy League championships, the Big Green finally earned respect in the preseason poll this year, entering the fall as co-favorites along with Harvard.

For five quarters, Dartmouth looked like it was on its way to proving the pollsters right. The Big Green cruised over Valparaiso to begin the season, then jumped out to a 21-3 lead the following week after 15 minutes at Sacred Heart.

Instead, Dartmouth blew that game, then nose-dived to a 3-7 record, finishing tied for sixth in the Ivy League and needing a win over Brown in the season finale to avoid the basement, seemingly undoing years of momentum. The Big Green hadn’t finished this low since a last-place campaign in 2016, and had not won fewer than three games overall since 2009.

So, what went wrong?

Injuries galore

Every team deals with injuries, and they aren’t on their own an excuse for poor performance, but coach Buddy Teevens said he had never experienced a year like this one when it came to his team’s health — especially considering the precautions Dartmouth takes to prevent injuries in practice.

“What did I do wrong?” Teevens lamented on the Inside The Woods podcast prior to the Oct. 22 game at Columbia. “It’s just been an aberration. We are considered one of the safest-practicing teams in the league, and most of our injuries are occurring in the games.”

Dartmouth was already banged up before the season started, with senior kicker Cameron Baller (labrum) and junior receiver Isaac Boston (torn pectoral) out for the year. Fifth-year Griff Lehman, the lone returning starter on the offensive line, did not see the field for the first two games, then was injured again after a brief return.

The Big Green emerged largely injury-free from the 35-13 victory against Valparaiso, but the first disaster struck in Fairfield, Conn. on Sept. 24. Starting safety Cam Maddox was carted off the field in the second quarter against Sacred Heart and missed the rest of the season with a hip injury.

The running backs room was a revolving door for much of the year, with fifth-year Zack Bair and senior Noah Roper both missing significant time. Senior receiver Dale Chesson, a projected starter, played in just two games and touched the ball once — a carry for a four-yard loss against Sacred Heart.

And that’s not even getting into the quarterback issues. Senior starter Nick Howard dealt with a fractured rib, a high-ankle sprain and a pulled groin at various points in the season. He spent most of the year splitting time with junior Dylan Cadwallader, but Cadwallader’s season ended late in the Princeton game on Nov. 5 when he suffered a concussion taking a sack.

“The concussive head injury, we’ve done a pretty good job (avoiding) that this year, but just freak things — a dislocated hip, a dislocated elbow, a torn Achilles, a significant high-ankle sprain, a broken forearm, a broken leg, a dislocated ankle,” Teevens said on the same podcast episode. “It happens. The challenge is next man up. They may be a little bit raw.”

The defense was just as snakebit. Senior linebacker Marques White, the only returning starter in that room, was out for the first two games, returned for the start of Ivy League play against Penn and Yale, then missed the rest of the season with an arm injury sustained against the Bulldogs.

Two more starters, fifth-year lineman Luca Di Leo and junior linebacker and leading tackler Macklin Ayers, went down on Oct. 15 against New Hampshire, with Ayers eventually returning at Princeton. Senior cornerback Tyron Herring, who had impressed in his first season as a starter, hobbled off the field early in the Columbia game and did not return until Saturday’s finale.

Struggles in the clutch

It’s hard to say Dartmouth should have won or deserved to win any of the five one-score games the Big Green dropped, but had a few breaks gone their way, they could well have remained in Ivy League title contention into the final week of action.

In that Sacred Heart game that proved in so many ways to be a harbinger of things to come, Dartmouth’s high-flying offense ground to a halt in the fourth quarter, while the defense had no answers for the Pioneers’ bevy of screen passes. That opened things up in the middle for Sacred Heart’s running game, and the Big Green squandered leads of 21-3 and 31-17 before losing in overtime.

The following week against Penn in Hanover, the Quakers’ defense kept Dartmouth out of the end zone until the fourth quarter, and a late missed field goal by tight end and kickoff specialist Ivan Hoyt gave Penn the chance to tie the game at the end of regulation with a field goal of its own. The Big Green fell, 23-17, in double overtime.

On Oct. 8 at the Yale Bowl, Dartmouth weathered a mid-game storm, with Cadwallader leading the Big Green nearly all the way back from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit in his first collegiate start. But a late interception ended the rally in its tracks as the Bulldogs escaped with a 24-21 win.

Two weeks after a close game finally did go Dartmouth’s way, against Columbia, the Big Green kept then-undefeated Princeton out of the end zone after the first quarter. But the offense, despite sophomore Jackson Proctor providing some energy at quarterback in leading a late touchdown drive, couldn’t quite complete the comeback in a 17-14 defeat.

A week later at Cornell, Dartmouth lost its only lead of the game after 12 seconds on a kickoff return touchdown, and trailing 17-13 in the waning moments, Howard led the Big Green inside the 10-yard line. But senior receiver Jonny Barrett, who hauled in Howard’s pass on the final play, came down just out of bounds.

“A one-score game and we have an opportunity at the end of the ballgame; we’re just not converting,” Teevens said after the Cornell loss. “In years past, we did; this year, not so much.”

Quarterback uncertainty

Dartmouth’s offensive success from 2017-21 was predicated on the two-quarterback system, but Howard, used almost entirely as a runner last season, worked hard in the offseason on his passing to try to become the full-time starter.

Three games in, though, it was clear Howard was out of rhythm as a passer, and opposing defenses were loading the box to dare him to throw. After Cadwallader impressed against Yale, he and Howard split time behind center, with moments of brilliance but never much consistency.

Cadwallader’s injury gave Proctor a chance to share the reps with Howard for the last two games, and Proctor figures to at least be in the rotation for next season. But all told, Big Green quarterbacks threw for a mere six touchdowns all season, as well as six interceptions.

Looking ahead

The injuries did give Dartmouth opportunities to get some younger players on the field, particularly late in the season and on defense. Safety Sean Williams, a true freshman, replaced Maddox in the starting lineup for the final eight games and came up with two interceptions. Sophomore Zach Farris filled in for Herring at cornerback and performed admirably, putting him in line to start next year.

The defensive line likely will have to replace Shane Cokes, Di Leo and Charlie Looes, but Ayers, junior Trevon Erickson and sophomore Braden Mullen are expected to return in the linebacking corps.

Offensively, the Big Green could have four returning starters on the line after essentially having none this year, with only left guard Michael Flores departing. Left tackle Konstantin Spörk, center Thomas Hartnett, right guard Nicholas Schwitzgebel and right tackle Ethan Sipe should all be back, which will be a boon to an inexperienced running backs group losing Bair and Roper but bringing back sophomore Q Jones.

Howard has the option to return for a fifth year in 2023, and Cadwallader and Proctor will also bring experience back to the quarterbacks room. Teevens — who said after the win over Brown that he plans to stick around for the foreseeable future — and his staff certainly have much to review, but a quick reload could be on the horizon next fall.

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at or 603-727-3302.

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