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Courtesy: Doug Austin
Miles Gay brings down a Crusader ball handler two years ago.

Four-Game Win Streak on the Line at Holy Cross

Courtesy: Dartmouth
Release: 09/24/2012
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The Game: Dartmouth (1-0) at Holy Cross (0-2)
Location: Fitton Field, Worcester, Mass.
Kickoff:
Saturday, Sept. 22 at 1 p.m.
Series Record: Crusaders lead, 36-35-4
Online Video: Crusader Vision ($)
Radio: WFRD 99.3 FM; Online - Dartmouth Sports Network
Live StatsComplete Game Notes

Streaking to Worcester
Dartmouth brings a four-game winning streak (that dates back to 2011) to Fitton Field on Saturday, home of the Holy Cross Crusaders, who are playing their homecoming game against the Big Green. Now, a four-game streak may not sound terribly long, but consider that it is the fifth longest streak among FCS schools, and your thinking might change.

A victory over Holy Cross would not only give the Green their first five-game win streak since the 1997 squad won its first five games (extending an overall streak to 15 wins), but it would also even the series with the Crusaders at 36-36-4. Dartmouth has dropped its last four games in Worcester with the last victory coming in 2003, 24-20.

Holy Cross still plays on natural grass, a surface that the Big Green have struggled on since installing FieldTurf at Memorial Field prior to the 2006 season. Until Dartmouth knocked off Brown in Providence in the penultimate game of 2011, it had lost 14 straight games on natural grass.

Last week the Big Green opened the season with a 35-7 trouncing of visiting Butler, the largest margin of victory in the first game of the year for Dartmouth since beginning the 1980 campaign with a 40-7 triumph over Penn.

Junior Dominick Pierre was the top offensive star of the game, setting career highs with 26 rushes and 170 yards while scoring two touchdowns. But it was senior Miles Gay who set the tone for the game, fielding the opening kick as an upback at the Big Green 15 and returning it 85 yards for a touchdown.

Pierre was a consistent force out of the backfield, almost exactly matching his performance from the first half to the second with 13 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown in the first half, then 13 more for 84 yards and another trip to the end zone in the second. He enters the Holy Cross game needing just 86 rushing yards to become the 25th Big Green player to amass 1,000 yards in a career.

Making his first start behind center was Alex Park, and he did not disappoint. The sophomore was an efficient 15-of-20 throwing the ball for 184 yards, including a 24-yard scoring strike to senior Michael Reilly in the back of the end zone. Reilly finished the game with a team-high 92 receiving yards on four catches, while sophomore Ryan McManus caught five tosses for 42 yards.

The defense did its job in holding the Bulldogs to just one touchdown. But while the Green shut down the Butler running game (69 yards on 22 carries), they did surrender 347 passing yards. When it came time to tighten up, however, Dartmouth excelled, allowing its opponent to score just once on three trips into the red zone.

Junior Michael Runger led the defense with seven stops from his middle linebacking position, plus recovered a key fumble in the red zone that ended the Bulldogs’ second drive. Fellow linebacker Bronson Green recovered another fumble and returned it 19 yards at the outset of the third quarter thanks to a hard hit by junior Mike Banaciski.

Special teams — kicking specifically — were a question mark during the preseason with the graduation of placekicker Foley Schmidt and the injury to incumbent punter Daniel Barstein. But sophomore Riley Lyons answered the bell, converting all five of his PAT attempts and averaging a 38.0-yard net on his four punts.

Scouting the Crusaders
It has been a rough start to the 2012 season for Holy Cross with losses to New Hampshire (38-17) and Brown (24-21), not to mention having its quarterback, Kevin Watson, get sidelined by a knee injury late in the game against the Bears.

The loss to Brown was particularly tough to swallow as the Crusaders entered the fourth quarter with a 21-10 lead and Brown on its own 28-yard line. After the Bears scored twice on lengthy drives, Holy Cross had one shot at a comeback. But on the second play of the possession, Watson was forced from the game with his injury.

In Watson’s place will likely be Ryan Laughlin, a sophomore who threw his first varsity passes during the final series against Brown. It will be difficult to replace the nearly 250 yards per game that Watson was throwing through the air with a completion rate of 67.8 percent.

Laughlin will have a solid stable of receivers at which to throw, however, with Mike Fess (16 catches, 128 yards) and Gerald Mistretta (13-132) leading the group. Jon Smith (9-98) and Kyle Toulouse (8-57) have also been frequent targets.

The running game has not been used much, despite the work that Eddie Houghton has done with an average of 5.0 yards per carry. The problem is that he has only taken the ball 22 times in the two games combined, and the Crusaders averaged just 83.5 yards per game on the ground.

On the other side of the ball, the defense has struggled at times, particularly in the fourth quarter against Brown. Entering the final frame with an 11-point lead, Holy Cross surrendered two touchdowns as the Bears held the ball for just over 12 of the last 15 minutes. The opposition is averaging over 450 yards of total offense, evenly distributed between the run and the pass.

Strong safety Tom Mannix leads the defensive unit with 19 tackles, all but one of which is solo, plus has one of the team’s two interceptions. Linebacker Roman SanDoval, meanwhile, has 18 stops.

Handling all of the kicking duties is John Macomber, who has nailed all five of his PATs, boomed half of his six kickoffs into the end zone and averaged over 39 yards per punt while dropping 5-of-12 inside the 20.

Ivy Players of the Week
The Big Green wasted no time in racking up some in-season accolades as junior Dominick Pierre was chosen as the Ivy League’s co-Offensive Player of the Week and senior Miles Gay the Special Teams Player of the Week for their performances in the season-opening 35-7 victory over Butler.

Pierre earned his honor for piling up a career-high 170 rushing yards on 26 carries with a pair of touchdowns, not to mention two receptions for four yards. He was consistent throughout the game, putting up 13 carries for 86 yards and a score over the first 30 minutes, 13 more rushes for 84 yards and another touchdown over the final half. His 170 yards rank 21st on the Big Green single-game charts.

Gay, on the other hand, touched the ball just once, but that one time certainly electrified the crowd. Lined up as an upback for the opening kickoff, he fielded the line-drive kick on one bounce and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown. It was the first time Gay had ever had possession of the ball as a collegian (he was a fullback in high school), and the first kickoff returned for a TD since Pete Pidermann ’10 had an 85-yard return at Princeton in 2008.

Start of Season a Success
Dartmouth earned its first victory at night in its second-ever home game under the lights (and third anywhere), defeating Butler in the season opener, 35-7. The 28-point margin was the largest for the Big Green in the first game of a season since trouncing Penn to start the 1980 campaign by 33 points, 40-7.

The Bulldogs were just the fifth new opponent for the Big Green over the past 60 years, all five of which suffered a loss to Dartmouth — Sacred Heart in 2010 (21-19), Davidson in 1987 (38-7), Bucknell in 1963  (20-18) and Rutgers in 1952 (29-20). Since 1920, the Green are 22-8 against first-time opponents with victories over schools such as Washington, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia Tech and Virginia.

Last But Hardly Least
The Ivy League football schedule always starts a couple of weeks after the rest of Division I. But with the season opener being played at night at Memorial Field, Dartmouth turned out to be the last FCS or FBS team to get its season started. It was worth the wait with the Big Green trouncing Butler, 35-7.

Reilly Returns
After sitting out last season, senior Michael Reilly showed no rust in the first game against Butler. The wide receiver, already one of 17 Big Green players with 1,000 receiving yards to his name, snared four passes for 92 yards against the Bulldogs, including a 24-yard touchdown thanks to a diving catch in the back of the end zone. Reilly now ranks 14th all-time at Dartmouth with 1,155 yards on 66 receptions, a 17.5-yard average.

Defense Stars as a Whole
Coach Teevens will refer to his defense as a “no-name” group, meaning there are no stars out there, but rather a cohesive unit. That was certainly the case against Butler with no one player posting eye-popping numbers, although the junior class provided some of the biggest plays. Michael Runger led the team with seven stops while corraling a key fumble during the first quarter in the red zone. And Mike Banaciski jarred a ball loose with a big hit that fell into the arms of Bronson Green, who returned it 19 yards to near midfield. But it was a sophomore who recorded the Big Green’s lone sack — Corbin Stall on the final play of the third quarter.

Park Effects
Having thrown just eight passes in his career, quarterback Alex Park played more like a seasoned veteran in his first collegiate start. The sophomore completed 15-of-20 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown for an efficiency rating of 168.78, the highest in the league. Park also got a chance to use his legs on occasion, scrambling 10 yards for a first down once and burrowing for a touchdown on a goal-line play, his first time in the end zone.

Bend But Don’t Break
The defensive team stats didn’t necessarily add up for Dartmouth after the Butler game, but the most important stat certainly was in the home team’s favor — points allowed. The Big Green surrendered 416 yards of offense (347 through the air), but were quite stingy in the red zone as the Bulldogs scored just once in three opportunities. The seven points are the fewest allowed by Dartmouth in the season opener since a 21-3 triumph over Princeton to begin the 1983 campaign. The Big Green had lost 21 consecutive games when yielding at least 400 yards as well, with the last win coming in a wild 59-31 victory over Cornell in 2007.

National Rankings
It might be a bit early to look at the national statistical rankings, but there is Dartmouth with the best kick return average (55.0), thanks to Gay’s touchdown return. The Big Green are also second in scoring defense (7.0), tied for third in turnover margin (2.0) and fifth in rushing defense (69.0). Pierre is fourth in rushing (170.0) and scoring (12.0), while Park is fifth in efficiency (168.78).

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