DARTMOUTH (1-0) vs. SACRED HEART (2-1)
MEMORIAL FIELD, HANOVER, N.H.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 26, 2015 • 7 P.M.
First Test of 2015 Passed
The Big Green may not have played their best football in their season opener at Georgetown last weekend, but they did more than enough to emerge victorious with a 31-10 triumph to “avenge” a loss in the only other meeting between the two gridiron programs — in 1916.
But Dartmouth is going to have to be a bit sharper against this week’s opponent, and not just in fashion as the team will be wearing all-black uniforms for the first time. Sacred Heart has won two of the three games in the young series and has received votes in top 25 polls this season (as have the Green).
What’s not to like about a 21-point victory, you ask? Well, the offense struggled to move the ball in the first half, gaining just 63 yards despite scoring three touchdowns. The second half brought better advancement, however, as quarterback Dalyn Williams guided the offense over 225 yards (113 through the air, 112 on the ground) after halftime.
No one rusher stood out from the crowd as senior Kyle Bramble sat this one out. Williams led the team with 43 rushing yards while freshman Vito Penza gave a glimpse of his talent with 35 yards on six carries. Sophomore Ryder Stone, junior Abrm McQuarters and senior Brian Grove all amassed between 20 and 30 yards as well with the latter scoring on a 13-yard romp. Put them all together and you get a solid 145 yards on the ground on 31 carries.
A number of players got in on the receiving act, but the group was led by seniors Victor Williams (5-15 yards) and Ryan McManus (4-65). No other player grabbed more than one, but what a one it was for freshman Dylan Mellor. In the third quarter, the rookie made his first collegiate catch and turned a short gain into a 27-yard score for the game’s final points.
While the offense searched for its rhythm, the defense was as stout as ever, limiting the Hoyas to a touchdown and a field goal. The Georgetown running game was non-existent as the Big Green allowed just 23 yards on the ground, the fewest for an opponent in 11 years. Senior linemen Sawyer Whalen (7) and Cody Fulleton (6) led the squad in tackles, with Fulleton contributing to one of the three sacks on the afternoon.
So the Hoyas took to the air, and although they threw for 308 yards, it took 53 attempts (31 completions) to do so, and Dartmouth came away with two key interceptions. The first was snared by senior strong safety Troy Donahue, who returned the ball 35 yards to the GU 10. Two plays later, the Big Green had their first score of the day as Williams weaved his way to the end zone from nine yards out.
The second pick came early in the second quarter with Dartmouth leading, 14-7. Pinned deep in their own territory, the Hoya quarterback was flushed out of the pocket in the end zone, and his desperate throw was batted in the air by senior linebacker Will McNamara, who secured the ball and traveled eight yards for his third career touchdown.
Special teams was another plus, most notably McManus on punt returns. His first one went 63 yards to the Hoya 13, setting up the go-ahead score, and he also had returns of 23 and 16 yards. The kicking game was excellent as well with Alex Gakenheimer perfect on five tries from 20 yards out (one FG, four PATs) and Ben Kepley netting 38.7 yards on his six punts, one of which traveled a career-long 60 yards.
Scouting the Pioneers
After routing its first two opponents of the season by a combined 77 points, Sacred Heart was upset last week on the road, 34-27, by a Marist team that was routed by Georgetown the week before. The transitive property would logically conclude that Dartmouth should beat the Pioneers tonight after defeating the Hoyas last week, 31-10, but no one ever said football was dictated by logic.
The Pioneers are still a team receiving votes in top 25 polls (as are the Big Green), and the offense has proven its ability to put points on the board, averaging 42 points a game (eighth nationally). Led by senior QB R.J. Noel, who threw for over 2,200 yards in each of the previous two seasons, is well on his way to that total again with nearly 800 yards in the first three contests while completing 57.3 percent (55-of-96) with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Noel can also run the ball with 110 yards and three touchdowns, but isn’t the only running threat. Ose Imeokparia has averaged 80 yards a game and scored three times as the Pioneers’ leading rusher.
Although 10 different Pioneers have caught at least one pass thus far, Noel has his favorites in Tyler Dube and Jackson King. The Big Green secondary will have to keep a close watch on Dube in particular as the fifth-year senior already has 19 catches for 338 yards and five of the squad’s seven receiving touchdowns. King has been a steady performer, snaring 11 tosses for 143 yards (13.0-yard average). Imeokparia is also a capable receiver out of the backfield.
Flip to the other side of the ball to where linebacker Kellen Sperduto lurks. The senior leads Sacred Heart with 26 tackles, 2.5 for a loss with 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Lineman Dylan Ackerson is the top pass rusher with 3.5 sacks among his seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage, both of which rank among the country’s top 10. As a team the Pioneers have 12 sacks and five interceptions.
On special teams, the kicking game has been hit or miss. Punter Jamie Ross hass been a big hit, averaging a whopping 46.3 yards (fourth among FCS punters) on his 12 punts. Placekicking, however, has been a bit erratic as Alec Finney has failed on three PATs and is just 1-of-2 on field goals with his lone conversion coming from 30 yards. Kick returns have been similarly off and on with three Pioneers combining to average more than 30 yards bringing back kickoffs. But Sacred Heart has only attempted three punt returns for just 19 yards.
Beginning his fourth year at the helm of the Pioneer program is Mark Nofri, a 1993 graduate of Keene State. In each of the past two seasons he has been named the NEC Coach of the Year with two straight berths in the FCS playoffs. Sacred Heart improved by eight wins in 2013 to 10, then won nine more a year ago, but faltered against Fordham in the playoffs both times.
New West Stands, Press Box Debut
When the 2014 season ended, Dartmouth College immediately went to work on upgrading the facilities in the West Stands at Memorial Field. Everything was taken down on the west side of the field, all except the exterior brick wall. The stands were then rebuilt to include wider concourses and seating, as well as handrails in wider stairways, making the stadium safer and more comfortable for Big Green fans. Capacity was reduced from 13,000 to 11,000 to accommodate the wider spaces. The press box that had been in place for 50 years was replaced with a modern facility that includes better networking capabilities and a dedicated video control room to more easily produce the live streams of the games available on the Ivy League Digital Network.
Campbell Trophy Semifinalist
The National Football Foundation & College Football Hall of Fame (NFF) announced its list of 135 semifinalists for the Campbell Trophy on Sept. 24, and senior Ryan McManus was among the select chosen for the distinction. The candidates are narrowed down from football teams across all divisions off NCAA and NAIA, and 23 of the 135 hail from the FCS, including five Ivy Leaguers. McManus is a history major with a 3.40 GPA and ranks among Dartmouth’s top 10 in both career receptions (129) and receiving yards (1,735). The list of 135 will be narrowed down to 15 NFF Scholar-Athletes on Oct. 29, an honor six Big Green players have received throughout the years. The Campbell Trophy winner will be announced on Dec. 8.
Ivy Players of the Week
Dartmouth earned 11 weekly awards from the Ivy League office last year, and it picked up where it left off by garnering two in the first week of action, both of whom are tri-captains. Senior linebacker Will McNamara received the Defensive Player of the Week honor on the strength of the interception he returned for a touchdown and his six tackles. It was his third career weekly defensive honor, one shy of the school record held by Zach Walz ’96 and Michael Runger ’14.
Senior wide receiver Ryan McManus also took home a weekly honor for the third time in his career, but this time it came for his work on special teams instead of offense. As the punt returner, he racked up 102 yards on three returns, including a 63-yarder to the Hoya 10 to set up the Big Green’s first TD. He was 12 yards shy of the program’s single-game record held by Bob Mlakar ’70, set against Brown in 1970.
The first meeting between Dartmouth and Georgetown occurred in 1916 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, to christen the new 5,000-seat stadium at the local high school. The Hoyas won the game, 10-0, as a heavy underdog, and rode that upset for 99 years before daring to play the Big Green again. But the Dartmouth memory is a long one, and the team took advantage of the opportunity to avenge the loss for their brethren by handing Georgetown a 31-10 defeat on its home field on Sept. 19.
With the 31-10 win at Georgetown, Dartmouth has won each of its past six season openers and scored at least 30 points in each one. Over 134 season openers, the Big Green sport an 89-42-3 record (.675) on opening day.
Pick Six Specialist
For the third time in his career, senior Will McNamara returned an interception for a touchdown with his pick-six at Georgetown. His other two came in the same game against Columbia two years ago, setting a Dartmouth single-game record. Since the start of the 1999 season, McNamara has as many TDs on interceptions as every other Dartmouth player during that span.
No Running Zone
The Dartmouth defense held Georgetown to a mere 23 rushing yards, the fewest yards for any Big Green opponent since Cornell had just 16 on Nov. 6, 2004. Oddly enough, that Big Red team is the only one of 38 opponents in the last 40 years to run for 58 or fewer yards in a game yet still beat Dartmouth.
Not too many freshmen got an opportunity to play regularly last year, but there were a few that debuted to start this season at Georgetown. Dylan Mellor had just one reception, but what a reception it was — a 27-yard touchdown to cap the 31-10 victory. Another rookie, Vito Penza, took the handoff six times and bowled his way to 35 yards. On the defensive side, lineman Jackson Perry recorded his first tackle, stopping a rusher for just a two-yard gain.
Still Scoring After All These Years
Both Brian Grove and Dalyn Williams ran for touchdowns against the Hoyas, making them the only two players on the team that have reached the end zone at least once in each of the last four seasons. For Grove, it was just his fifth career touchdown, collecting two as a rookie and one each of the previous two seasons. Williams has now rushed for 15 scores in his career with a personal-best six coming as a sophomore. This will be an exclusive club this year as no one else on the team has scored at least one TD in each of the last three years.
Go With the Flo
Junior Folarin “Flo” Orimolade has been somewhat of a sack specialist for the Big Green defense during his tenure with the team, and the season opener was no exception. The linebacker had a hand in all three Dartmouth sacks, matching a career high with 1.5 on the day. Last year he led the team with 4.5 sacks, and as a rookie he was fourth with 2.0 but for a total of 36 yards lost, most on the squad. Suffice it to say, Flo knows sacks.
Record Book Watch
Dalyn Williams is threatening to become Dartmouth’s career leader in several statistical categories. The native of Corinth, Texas, became the third Big Green quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a career with his 138 at Georgetown, plus is third in total yards with 6,316. Both records are held by former NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler ’94. To catch Fiedler’s passing mark, Williams will need to throw for 1,681 yards the rest of the way. The total yardage is in closer reach thanks to being Dartmouth’s all-time leading rusher among QBs with 1,312 yards on the ground. Williams needs just 934 total yards to surpass Fiedler’s record of 7,249.
One player benefitting from Williams’ passing prowess is wide receiver Ryan McManus. The fifth-year senior ranks among the Big Green’s top 10 in both career receptions (129, 8th) and receiving yardage (1,735, 7th). In order to break the receptions record held by Jay Barnard ’04, McManus will need to have the most prolific season a receiver has ever had at Dartmouth with 92 catches. To break the yardage record held by Craig Morton ’89, he needs “just” 936 yards during the campaign, a total bested by only five players in program history.
Bramble Milestone Watch
Dalyn Williams and Ryan McManus aren’t the only players chasing numbers this year. Senior running back Kyle Bramble is a mere eight yards shy of becoming the 27th player in Dartmouth history to rush for 1,000 in a career.