HANOVER, N.H. — Junior running back Dominick Pierre carried the ball 26 times for a career-best 170 yards, and sophomore Alex Park completed 15-of-20 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another in his first career start as the Dartmouth Big Green opened the season with a 35-7 win over the visiting Butler Bulldogs under the lights at Memorial Field on Saturday night.
Dartmouth (1-0) picks up its third consecutive season-opening win and moves to 86-42-3 overall in season-openers. Butler (1-2) threw for nearly 350 yards, but failed to score twice in the red zone and missed an early field goal.
As the last Division I team to kick off its 2012 football season, the Big Green quickly made up for lost time when senior Miles Gay took back the opening kick 85 yards. One of the upbacks in the return formation, Gay fielded the line-drive kick after a couple of bounces, broke one tackle and took off up the left sideline for a 7-0 lead and the first Dartmouth kickoff return for a touchdown since the 2008 campaign.
|Once Miles Gay turned the corner on the opening kickoff, he would not be denied on his trek to the end zone.|
With a mixture of Pierre runs and Park passes, Dartmouth was able to traverse the 76 yards for another touchdown. Park was on the mark on each of his first three throws, including a 23-yarder into the red zone to senior Michael Reilly on a 3rd-and-6 play. Facing another 3rd-and-6, Dartmouth picked up a first down on a defensive holding call, leading to a Pierre seven-yard run around the left end for his first score of the day.
Butler advanced even further on its next drive, reaching the Big Green 10 thanks in large part to runs of 21 and 19 yards by tailback Trae Heeter, who finished the day with 61 yards on just seven carries. But when quarterback Matt Lancaster faded back to pass, the ball slipped out of his hand and junior Michael Runger pounced on it, squelching the Bulldogs march into the red zone.
The third possession was the charm for Butler as it cut the deficit in half with what turned out to be its lone touchdown of the night. Twice the Bulldogs faced fourth down — needing 11 yards the second time after a false start — but Lancaster rolled out a 23-yard pass to Derek O’Connor down to the Dartmouth 11. Two plays later, Lancaster went back to O’Connor for a five-yard touchdown toss, capping the 86-yard drive.
With only seconds remaining in the first half, Park connected with Reilly in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown pass, pushing the Dartmouth advantage to 21-7 at the intermission.
In the second half the Dartmouth defense continued to bend but never broke to keep the Bulldogs off the board. Butler opened the third quarter by moving the ball down to the Big Green 34 where junior Mike Banaciski jarred the ball loose after a catch. Junior tri-captain Bronson Green plucked the ball out of the air and hoofed it 19 yards just shy of midfield. Dartmouth failed to capitalize on the turnover, however, when a 4th-and-3 run from the Bulldog 15 was stopped just short of the marker by Bryce Barry.
It wasn’t long before the Big Green got the ball back as the Bulldogs went three-and-out, punting the ball away to the Dartmouth 39. Pierre took the ball on the first three plays for a total of 28 yards before Park lofted a 32-yard pass to Reilly inside the one. Park then pushed forward for the score on the keeper, and sophomore Riley Lyons added the extra point once again for a 28-7 advantage.
A 57-yard pass from Lancaster to O’Connor early in the fourth quarter gave the Bulldogs 1st-and-goal at the two, yet the Dartmouth defense was up to the challenge. Twice Lancaster was foiled on keepers, and twice he could not find an open receiver, allowing the host to take over on downs at its own five.
Park led his squad on a methodical march downfield for the final score of the night, crossing the 95 yards in 13 plays while trimming 6:29 off the clock. Pierre capped the drive with a one-yard dive for his second touchdown of the evening.
Sophomore Ryan McManus led the Big Green with five receptions for 42 yards, while Reilly needed just four catches to amass 92 yards and a touchdown in his first game since the end of the 2010 season.
On the defensive side, Runger posted a team-high seven tackles to go along with his key fumble recovery. Sophomore Stephen Dazzo was solid in his first career start, making six stops and breaking up a pass, while both sophomore Chai Reece and junior Jimmy Johnson broke up two pass attempts apiece. Sophomore Corbin Stall pitched in his first career sack as well.
O’Connor was the offensive star for the Bulldogs, hauling in nine throws for 164 yards and his team’s lone touchdown. Lancaster finished the night 25-of-35 for 267 yards, while his backup, Wade Markley, completed 8-of-17 for 80 yards.
Dartmouth takes to the road next week when it plays at Holy Cross (0-2) at Fitton Field on Saturday at 1 p.m. Butler returns to Indianapolis to start its conference slate in the Pioneer Football League, hosting Campbell at noon.
Notes: This was just the second night game ever at Dartmouth’s Memorial Field. Lights were installed before the 2011 season ... Pierre has two 100-yard games to his credit, racking up 110 against Sacred Heart as a freshman in 2010 — his only previous start ... the 170 yards rushing marks the 21st time a Big Green back has run for at least that much ... Pierre needs just 86 more yards on the ground to become the 25th player in Dartmouth history to reach 1,000 ... the last Big Green player to return a kickoff for a touchdown was Peter Pidermann against Princeton on Nov. 22, 2008, also an 85-yard return ... this was the first meeting between Dartmouth and Butler on the gridiron. The Green have beaten each of their last five first-time opponents, which dates back to 1952.