FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Sacred Heart booted a 22-yard field goal with one minute to play, then blocked a 53-yard attempt as time expired to pull out 24-21 homecoming victory for the host Pioneers (1-2) at Campus Field on Saturday afternoon. Dartmouth (1-1) was whistled for 10 penalties that added up to 94 yards and failed to score twice in the red zone as the Big Green dropped their first road contest of the 2011 season.
It was a reversal of fortunes for the two teams from last year when Sacred Heart failed to convert a 38-yard field goal in the final minute of play in Hanover, allowing Dartmouth to escape with a two-point victory. Today, the Big Green were victimized by a missed goal — also from 38 yards out — with 8:50 left in the game and the score tied at 21.
After the missed field goal, Sacred Heart went to work marching down the field, taking advantage of a pair of encroachment penalties against the Dartmouth defense. The more costlier of the two came on a 2nd-and-10 play at the Big Green 35 that senior cornerback Shawn Abuhoff stopped cold for a loss of a yard. Instead of 3rd-and-11, the Pioneers merely faced 2nd-and-5, and shortly thereafter had a 1st-and-goal at the five-yard line.
With time winding down, Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens started burning timeouts, and the defense responded with a stop on first down, then nearly recovered a fumble on a muffed exchange. With barely a minute to play and no timeouts left, the Big Green got a little help from Sacred Heart when a third-down pass fell incomplete, stopping the clock. Although Chris Rogers’ kick split the uprights, Dartmouth still had a chance to get within field goal range to tie the game with exactly one minute remaining.
Senior quarterback Conner Kempe first connected with freshman Bo Patterson for a 26-yard completion to move into Sacred Heart territory. A toss to senior Tim McManus and another to Patterson both provided first downs, advancing the ball to the Pioneer 26, which was certainly within senior kicker Foley Schmidt’s range, whose career long is from 45 yards. With just 13 seconds showing, McManus caught another pass at his shoelaces for a 12-yard gain, only to have the play negated by a holding penalty. After an incompletion, Schmidt came on to try the 53-yarder, but it was rejected by Paul Graziadei to close out the game.
Sacred Heart took control of the game from the outset, marching 60 yards in seven plays after the opening kick to take a 7-0 lead. Keshaudas Spence carried the ball six of those seven plays for a total of 46 yards, including the four-yard romp into the end zone.
After sputtering on its first possession, Dartmouth managed to put together its only sustained drive during the first 30 minutes when Kempe completed 5-of-6 throws on the second Big Green drive. Each catch was hauled in by a different receiver, the last of which was handled by freshman Kirby Schoenthaler on a 17-yard screen pass, tying the score at seven.
Before the first quarter came to an end, the Pioneers seemed to have a drive thwarted by penalties of their own. An illegal block and an illegal shift pushed Sacred Heart back from the Big Green 18 to the 33. But when the second quarter began, and Dartmouth gave those yards right back on an encroachment call and a face mask. Now with a 1st-and-10 at the 14, quarterback Tim Little teamed up with Rich Rossi for a touchdown pass and a 14-7 advantage.
Some Sacred Heart special teams trickery backfired on the Pioneers when they allowed Little to pooch punt on 4th-and-17 at the Dartmouth 35 in the middle of the second quarter. Abuhoff, an All-American as a return man last year, was ready for the kick, fielding it at the 10, losing ground a bit to dodge traffic before turning up the right sideline and taking it all the way for the touchdown. The 90-yard return is the longest in school history and the fourth of his career, tying another school record.
The second half did not start well for the Big Green, going three-and-out before having a punt partially blocked, giving Sacred Heart the ball at the Dartmouth 41. Two plays later, Spence broke several tackles to burst through the line and score on a 29-yard run.
The Dartmouth running game, which was nearly non-existent in the first half, finally got going. First, Kempe had to pick up a first down on 3rd-and-18 with a 28-yard pass to senior tight end John Gallagher. Senior Nick Schwieger broke off an 11-yard run during the drive, and sophomore Dominick Pierre finished it off with a 15-yard touchdown run with 7:18 left in the third quarter.
Now Sacred Heart found yards hard to come by, recording just one first down on its next two drives, and that one coming on a Big Green personal foul penalty. Meanwhile, Dartmouth twice turned the ball over on downs, advancing to the Pioneer 18 once and the 28 the next time after a J.B. Andreassi interception gave the Green the ball at the SHU 31. In the fourth quarter, Kempe guided the team down to the eight only to have an offensive pass interference call eventually leave Schmidt with his 38-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide right.
The Pioneers never trailed during the contest as Spence, making his first college start, pounded out 129 yards on 28 rushes while scoring two of the three SHU touchdowns. Little balanced out the Sacred Heart attack by completing 22-of-34 passes for 176 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Despite rushing for just eight yards on six carries in the first half, Schwieger still managed to record his 10th career 100-yard game with exactly 100 yards on 20 carries. Kempe finished the day 14-of-32 passing the ball for 159 yards and one touchdown, while McManus led the receivers with five catches for 44 yards.
The two sides ended the day nearly even in total offense with Sacred Heart holding a slim 314-303 advantage, but the Pioneers held a 213-84 advantage at the half, while Dartmouth compiled 219 yards in the second half while the defense held SHU to 101.
Dartmouth returns home to Memorial Field on Saturday, Oct. 1 for the first-ever night game in the 130-year history of Big Green varsity football when it hosts two-time defending Ivy League champion Penn at 6 p.m. Sacred Heart takes to the road for the first time this year to play at Central Connecticut State in a Northeast Conference tilt on Saturday at noon.