DeLAND, Fla. — The Dartmouth football team opened its 2017 season with a 38-7 victory over Stetson on Saturday night at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium thanks to a smothering defense that held the host Hatters (0-3) to a mere 94 yards of offense. Junior nose guard Jackson Perry proved to be a handful up front, leading the Big Green (1-0) with eight tackles, 3.5 for a loss with 1.5 sacks, to help Dartmouth to win its eighth straight season opener.
Five different players scored touchdowns for Dartmouth — each score being the first of their respective careers — as the Green dominated the ground game. Junior Rashaad Cooper and senior Ryder Stone led a rushing attack with 97 and 96 yards, respectively, as Dartmouth racked up a total of 324 on the ground, its most in four years.
The defense, meanwhile, would not give Stetson any room to run with the Hatters recording minus-three yards on 26 carries, the fewest yards for a Dartmouth opponent in at least 45 years. Bryce Blackmon managed 18 yards on 15 carries, but thanks in large part to five sacks, Stetson could not post positive yardage via the ground game.
Holding a slim 10-7 advantage at the start of the third quarter, the Big Green got their offense on track right away with a nine-play, 71-yard drive that culminated with sophomore Wildcat quarterback Jared Gerbino sneaking into the end zone from a yard out on a keeper. The big gain came through the air, however, as senior Jack Heneghan connected with junior Dylan Mellor on a 27-yard completion after Dartmouth managed negative-three yards through the air in the first half.
Following a quick three-and-out for the Hatters, the offense took over near midfield thanks to a 19-yard punt return by senior Danny McManus. Just five plays later, Heneghan found senior tight end Cam Poole in the back corner of the end zone all alone for a five-yard scoring strike. Not only was it the first touchdown of Poole’s career, but also his first catch, giving the Green a 24-7 advantage.
Late in the third quarter, it was the defense’s turn to put points on the board. Sophomore nickelback D.J. Avery stepped in front of a Stetson pass and scampered 30 yards untouched for a pick-six and 31-7 lead, effectively putting the game out of reach.
Dartmouth tacked on one final touchdown when junior running back Matthew Shearin darted up the middle from 16 yards out on his third career carry, finishing off a 12-play, 81-yard drive that lasted over six minutes.
While the final numbers display Dartmouth’s dominance, the Big Green sputtered at times in the first half as they showed symptoms of a team playing its first game, despite an interception by senior linebacker Eric Meile on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Dartmouth failed to score, however, as the drive stalled at the four and the 22-yard field goal sailed wide to the left.
The game remained scoreless throughout the first quarter thanks in part to a pair of Big Green fumbles in their own territory. But Stetson could not capitalize on the terrific field position, losing nine yards after the first recovery and eight on the second before punting away both times.
Dartmouth finally got on track offensively early in the second quarter by running just six times to cover 80 yards. Heneghan had the biggest gain on a 29-yard keeper, while Cooper ran the final two plays, gobbling up 10 yards with the second providing the game’s first score.
Stetson answered by putting together its only sustained drive of the day, running 13 plays for 75 of the team’s 94 yards on the night. Justin Jordan provided the touchdown by hauling in a six-yard pass from Colin McGovern, who finished the game 17-of-30 for 88 yards and the two interceptions.
A 46-yard McManus punt return late in the first half gave Dartmouth the opportunity to enter the locker room with a lead. The Big Green were denied a touchdown when J.J. Johnson broke up Heneghan’s third-down pass in the end zone to junior Drew Hunnicutt, forcing Dartmouth to settle for a 25-yard field goal courtesy of senior David Smith with just 17 seconds showing on the clock.
Dartmouth finished the game with 406 total yards as Heneghan was 6-of-13 for 71 yards and a touchdown toss. As a team the Green averaged 5.6 yards per carry with Cooper’s career-high 97 yards on 14 carries and Stone’s 96 on 17 rushes leading the way.
The defense dropped two Stetson quarterbacks for five sacks, paced by Jackson. Seniors Justin Edwards and Jimmy McHugh both had solo sacks, and senior Nick Tomkins, junior David Emanuels and sophomore Niko Lalos each helped out on others.
Dartmouth, having played in the state of Florida for the first time ever, returns to New Hampshire to host Holy Cross (2-1) next Saturday at Memorial Field at 7 p.m. The game will be streamed live on the Ivy League Network and broadcast on 94.5 ESPN Radio in the Upper Valley.
Notes: Not only did Dartmouth win its eighth straight season opener, it also won its eighth straight non-conference game dating back to the 2014 season ... Heneghan surpassed 3,000 total yards for his career with his 29-yard run in the second quarter. He finished the day with 3,119 total yards to his credit ... the fewest rushing yards for any Big Green opponent was negative-16 by New Hampshire back in 1965 ... Dartmouth did not have 100 yards passing for the first time since the 2013 season finale against Princeton, but the 324 yards rushing were its most since picking up 325 against Columbia that same season.