Location: Memorial Field, Hanover, N.H.
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m.
Series Record: Penn leads 44-32-2
Television: Fox College Sports — Eric Frede (play-by-play), Steve DeOssie (analyst)
Online Video: Big Green Insider — Dick Lutsk (play-by-play), Wayne Young (analyst), produced by NSN
Radio: WFRD 99.3 FM; Online - Dartmouth Sports Network
Live Stats • Complete Game Notes
Lights, Camera, Action!
The quest for the Ivy League title begins Saturday as Dartmouth hosts the two-time defending conference champion Penn Quakers in a historic game. The Big Green have been playing varsity football for 130 years, yet until this game, had never played a single contest at night. The lights at Memorial Field were installed this summer, allowing Dartmouth to play its first of 1,132 games — dating back to the 1881 season — in the evening.
Both teams are coming off tough losses. The Big Green fell on the road at Sacred Heart on a last-minute field goal, 24-21. Meanwhile, Penn came up short against Villanova in what was a two-point game until an interception was returned for a touchdown with 12 seconds to play in a 30-21 contest.
The Dartmouth offense is led by All-America candidate Nick Schwieger, who has rumbled for at least 100 yards on the ground in each of the first two games. At Sacred Heart, he was contained to just eight yards in the first half before finding his stride after halftime to hit 100 even for the game, his 10th career 100-yard game. The senior needs just 138 more yards to become Dartmouth’s all-time leading rusher, but the Quakers have held him for under 80 yards each of the last two seasons.
Taking the snaps behind center is Conner Kempe, fifth on the Big Green career charts in passing yards (3,554). Dartmouth could use a bit more production out of the 6-4, 225-pound senior — he has not thrown for more than 160 yards in any of his last five games. Sophomore Andy Gay did spell Kempe last week for two series in the second quarter, throwing his first varsity passes in the process.
Defensively the Green are relying heavily on linebackers Bronson Green and Luke Hussey to make the stops. Green, the Ivy Defensive Player of the Week after the opener, has posted 11 tackles in each game thus far, while Hussey has 10 stops to his credit in both games. Additionally, strong safety Joey Casey has been active, making a total of 17 tackles and breaking up three passes, despite missing about 25 minutes of action last week after being shaken up on a tackle.
But head coach Buddy Teevens has a big challenge for the defense — get off the field. Both Colgate and Sacred Heart enjoyed a possession advantage of nearly eight minutes, giving Schwieger and Kempe less time to pick apart the opposition.
Shawn Abuhoff displayed his All-America form on special teams once again, setting a school record with a 90-yard punt return against the Pioneers. It was his fourth touchdown on a punt return, tying the school record and making him the active career leader in the NCAA.
Against Penn, Dartmouth has not found much success for more than a decade with the Quakers winning 12 of the last 13 meetings. The lone Big Green win in that span came four years ago right here in Hanover, 21-13. Last year the Quakers outlasted Dartmouth in overtime at Franklin Field, 35-28, as Kempe threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns.
Scouting the Quakers
Penn has had a rough go of things to start the 2011 campaign, dropping games to Lafayette and Villanova, 37-12 and 30-21, respectively. Both contests came at their home venue, Franklin Field, so perhaps the change of locale will help the Quakers in their quest to rattle off their 16th consecutive Ivy League victory, dating back to the end of the 2008 season.
Last week, Penn nearly knocked off Villanova, trailing 23-21 in the final minute with the ball when the Wildcats picked off a Billy Ragone pass and returned it for a touchdown to seal the outcome. Ragone has struggled throwing the ball thus far, completing just 23-of-49 passes for 341 yards and just one touchdown while being intercepted four times. He is still a formidable runner, however, averaging 84 yards on 18 carries, making him the Quakers’ second leading rusher. The top Penn runner is Brandon Colavita, who is averaging close to five yards on his 33 carries.
The receiving corps is led by a pair of Ryans, Calvert and Mitchell. The former has a team-best seven receptions, one of which is the lone touchdown through the air, while the latter has the most receiving yards (97) on six catches. But Ragone will spread the ball around as six other Quakers have made at least two receptions this year.
Although Penn has yielded at least 30 points in each of its first two games, the defense has not made it easy on opposing teams in advancing the football. The Quakers have been quite effective against the run, ranking among the 25 stingiest FCS teams in yardage allowed on the ground, and only 16 other squads have yielded fewer total yards. The problem, instead, has come in the form of turnovers as Penn has coughed the ball up five times, three of which have been returned for a touchdown.
Nickelback Matt Hamscher is the Quakers’ top tackler with 17 tackles, while defensive tackle Brandon Copeland and linebacker Erik Rask have a knack for penetrating into the offensive backfield. Dartmouth will be hard pressed to extend its streak of quarters without allowing a sack beyond the 13 with which it enters today.
On special teams, Penn has a new placekicker this season in Connor Loftus, who has made all four of his PATs and has had just two field goal opportunities, hitting from 21 but missing from 40. Scott Lopano averages nearly 40 yards per punt and has dropped four inside the 20.
Coaching the Quakers is the dean of the Ivy League, Al Bagnoli, now in his 20th season at Penn and 30th as a head coach. He has won more than twice as many as he has lost with the Quakers at 131-59 and is 217-78 for his career. The winningest active coach at the FCS level and in Ivy League history has won eight outright league titles, the most by any Ivy coach ever. Bagnoli is a 1975 graduate of Central Connecticut State and got his start as a head coach at Union College, where he guided the Dutchmen to the Division III title game in 1983.
Dartmouth entered the game at Sacred Heart as sizable favorites, but despite tying the score on three separate occasions, never once could take a lead in a 24-21 loss. It was the second straight year the showdown between the two schools came down to a last-minute field goal — in 2010, the Pioneers missed a 38-yarder as the Big Green pulled out a 21-19 triumph. This year, SHU booted a 22-yarder with one minute left to break the deadlock, then blocked a 53-yard attempt by Dartmouth to end the game.
Record-Setting Return for Abuhoff
Senior set two records and tied another on his first punt return at Sacred Heart. His 90-yard return is the longest in the program’s history and allowed him to break the Dartmouth record for career kick return yardage (punts and kickoffs) with 2,060. In addition, the All-America return specialist tied the school’s career mark for touchdowns on punt returns with this being his fourth. And his career average of 13.02 yards leads all active FCS players. For his efforts, Abuhoff was selected as the Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week for the third time in the last two seasons. It was also his sixth weekly award from the conference, having been the Rookie of the Week three times in 2008.
Turning the Tables on Blocks
In the season opener, Dartmouth blocked two kicks. One week later, Sacred Heart got a piece of a pair of Big Green kicks, including the 53-yard field goal that could have tied the game as time expired. The first block may have been even more impactful — a punt early in the third quarter that led to a touchdown. Dartmouth had not had any type of kick blocked since the 2010 season opener when Bucknell stuffed a couple of extra-point attempts.
Schwieger Hits 100 for 10th Time
After gaining just eight yards on six carries in the first half at Sacred Heart, it seemed highly unlikely that senior would reach the century mark. But thanks to some halftime adjustments, he found a few more holes and finished his day with exactly 100 yards, the 10th time in his career he has reached triple digits. Dating back to last year, he has three consecutive 100-yard games, the second time he has ripped off three in a row.
Yellow Flag Follies
No less than 10 times did Dartmouth get whistled for a penalty at Sacred Heart, which led to a loss of 94 yards. Many of those penalties proved to be costly, including seven in the second half. It was just the fourth time that Coach Teevens had a team flagged for 10 or more penalties in a game since returning to Hanover in 2005.
Not A Complete Loss
In Dartmouth’s 24-21 loss at Sacred Heart, the defense proved to be quite disrupting at times, making nine tackles for a loss. It is the second most Big Green TFL in a game since the start of the 2008 season, and surprisingly, cornerback led the charge with a career-best 2.5.