DARTMOUTH (4-0) at
SACRED HEART (2-3)
Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 • 1 p.m.
Final Game Outside of Conference
It seems Dartmouth finds a way to top their most recent triumph every week. But after three consecutive, exhilarating, last-minute victories, what can this Big Green team do for an encore? For one, a win would extend the team’s winning streak against non-conference competition to 10 games, something it has not done since formal Ivy League play began in 1956.
Three weeks ago, Dartmouth defeated Holy Cross, 27-26, by thwarting a two-point conversion in overtime to end the game. Then in the Ivy League opener at Penn, the Big Green pushed into the end zone on the game’s final play to turn a three-point deficit into a three-point victory, 16-13. Last week, Dartmouth fell behind by 21 points to Yale, only to storm back for the largest comeback win in program history, 28-27, on a touchdown pass and PAT in the final minute of play.
Can Dartmouth find a new and interesting way to win this week? Sacred Heart has generally proven to be a difficult foe over the past decade, splitting four meetings, though the most recent one was a 49-7 trouncing of the Pioneers two years ago in Hanover.
Robert L. Blackman Head Football Coach Buddy Teevens would like to see his Dartmouth squad get off to a fast start this week after struggling mightily during the first half against Yale, managing just two first downs and 56 yards of offense by the break.
But in the second half, the two teams made like Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage in the movie Vice Versa as the Big Green began rolling while the Bulldogs sputtered. Quarterback Jack Heneghan, the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week and Gold Helmet Award winner, piled up 276 of his 314 passing yards after the intermission to go with three scoring strikes. Some of his biggest plays came when he held onto the ball, however, as he had three crucial runs during the game-winning drive that gobbled up a total of 32 yards.
Dartmouth was forced to play without leading receiver Hunter Hagdorn after a first-quarter injury, but juniors Dylan Mellor and Drew Hunnicutt picked up the slack. Mellor had a career game, hauling in seven throws for 133 yards including a 40-yard touchdown, while Hunnicutt snared five passes for 64 yards and two scores, the second a 15-yarder on 4th-and-5 with 34 seconds to play.
The defense, meanwhile, surrendered 310 yards over the first 30 minutes, nearly 70 more than its average on the season for an entire game. But the turning point came late in the first half when sophomore cornerback Isiah Swann stepped in front of a Yale pass and returned it 47 yards for the Big Green’s first points of the day.
After halftime, the Bulldogs were able to march 77 yards on their first drive, but were forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal. On their final five possesions, however, Dartmouth held Yale to 46 yards. Defensive end T.J. Simpson registered a third-down sack — the lone sack of the game for the Big Green — to end one drive, and the Bulldogs went three-and-out their next three possessions. And senior cornerback Danny McManus, who had an interception earlier, ended the game with a terrific hit on a receiver to break up a pass past midfield.
Junior linebacker Jack Traynor led Dartmouth in tackles for the third straight week, recording 10 stops to increase his season total to 35, second most in the Ivy League. Eight different players have helped out on at least one sack, and five others have an interception to their name.
Special teams continue to be solid with senior David Smith remaining perfect on PATs in 36 attempts with four successful tries and sophomore Davis Brief averaging a net of over 36 yards per punt. The kick return tandem of Jarius Brown and Ryder Stone were effective, and McManus had a 16-yard punt return, one yard longer than his average on the season (15.0 ypr) that has him ranked seventh nationally among FCS players.
Scouting the Pioneers
Since starting the season with a pair of victories, Sacred Heart has fallen on harder times, dropping its last three games. But the Pioneers have had two weeks to prepare for Dartmouth after playing their Northeast Conference opener at home against Central Connecticut State — a 26-15 defeat — on Sept. 30.
Sacred Heart has been able to move the football effectively this year, averaging over 400 yards a game, including 501 versus the Blue Devils. And it has been a balanced offense with 201 yards on the ground and just under 200 through the air.
Quarterback Kevin Duke has completed just over 60 percent of his passes this year (78-of-129) to go with four touchdowns. His Achilles’ heel this year, however, has been interceptions as he has been picked off eight times, including three against CCSU.
The Pioneers have a stable of backs to run the ball, led by Jordan Meacham (44 rushes, 234 yards, 2 TD) and Eli Terry (51-229, 1 TD). Their leading rusher, Ose Imeokparia, has not played in the last two contests yet still is tied for the team lead with four rushing scores. The other with four? The quarterback Duke who has nearly 200 rushing yards to his credit.
When Duke does throw the ball, he will likely have one of three wide receivers in his sights: Andrew O’Neil (25 catches, 265 yards, 2 TD), Byron Barney (23-352, 1 TD) or Lawrence Nembhard (13-189, 1 TD). The rest of the team has combined to haul in 17 passes to date.
The defense looks to a pair of linebackers to lead Sacred Heart in subdoing opposing offenses. C.J. Parvelus (45 tackles, 3.5 for a loss) and Kevn Barry (40 tackles, seven for a loss) are the most active defenders, while Khaamal Whitaker is the top cover man with an 82-yard interception return and five pass breakups.
Speaking of returns, Ezekiel Ennis has a 98-yard kickoff return this year and the Pioneers average nearly 25 yards per runback. Punt returns have been more modest with a 4.9-yard average.
Place-kicker Josh Freiria has been solid, converting all 16 PATs and 3-of-4 field goals to lead the team in scoring. Punting has been a bit problematic with two players sharing duties with the team net next-to-worst in the FCS at 26.9 yards.
Now in his sixth year at the helm of the Pioneer program is Mark Nofri, a 1993 graduate of Keene State. During his tenure he twice was named the NEC Coach of the Year with two straight berths in the FCS playoffs, boasting 10 in 2013 and nine more the next season, but faltered against Fordham in the playoffs both times. The last two years his team posted 6-5 marks, and he enters this contest with a career record of 35-28 at Sacred Heart.
NEC Front Row Broadcast
Although the game will not be available on the Ivy League Network (as each of the final five contests will be), Dartmouth fans can log on to NEC Front Row (NECFrontRow.com) and watch the game free of charge.
Nine Straight Non-League Wins
With the 27-26 win over No. 25 Holy Cross, Dartmouth has won its last nine non-conference games dating back to the 2014 season, beginning with a 24-21 victory over the Crusaders. This streak matches the longest the Big Green have had since Ivy League play began in 1956 — a nine-game streak spanning the 1962-66 seasons.
Comeback for the Ages
Dartmouth keeps finding new ways to win this season, and the homecoming game against Yale was no different. Trailing by 21 in the second quarter and 17 at the intermission, the Big Green staged three touchdown drives in the second half — the last coming with 34 seconds to play — lifting them to a 28-27 victory. It was the largest deficit overcome to win in Dartmouth history, spanning 136 seasons of football. The largest previous comeback was 18 points, first done against Yale (24-21) as well back on Oct. 29, 1983, and again versus Princeton (19-18) in the final game of the 1999 season with all 19 points coming in the fourth quarter.
Heneghan Earns Weekly Honors
Senior Jack Heneghan was honored not just by the Ivy League office as its Offensive Player of the Week for orchestrating the historic comeback against Yale, but also the New England Football Writers Association as its Gold Helmet Award winner. It is Heneghan’s first Ivy weekly honor but second Gold Helmet, having earned it after last year’s stunning fourth-quarter comeback in a 22-21 victory over No. 22 New Hampshire. Heneghan threw for 314 yards against the Bulldogs — 276 in the second half — and three touchdowns while leading the team in rushing as well with 33 yards on eight carries. The Big Green have had 11 Gold Helmet winners in the last nine seasons, led by Nick Schwieger ’12 with three and Dalyn Williams ’16 joining Heneghan with two.
Down to the Wire
When Jared Gerbino bulled his way into the end zone against Penn to lift Dartmouth to a 16-13 victory on Sept. 29, it was the first time in almost 46 years that the Big Green won a game on the final play of regulation. Back on Oct. 23, 1971, Ted Perry ’73 drilled a 46-yard field goal as time expired to give Dartmouth a 16-13 win (coincidentally) at Harvard.
Then against Yale, the Big Green scored with 34 seconds remaining to turn a deficit into a 28-27 victory, just the fourth time since the 1967 season Dartmouth has scored the winning points in the final minute of action twice in the same season. The last instance came in 1989, and the only time the Green did it in consecutive games came in 1971 with Perry kicking a 40-yard field goal with 53 seconds left to beat Yale, 17-15.
No idea what that means, but junior Jack Traynor has been all over the field for Dartmouth this season. The linebacker has led the Big Green in tackles in each of the last three wins, collecting 10 in the 28-27 win over Yale on Oct. 7. Entering this weekend, Traynor is second in the Ivy League with 35 tackles.
Prior to the 28-27 win over Yale on Oct. 7, junior Dylan Mellor had 11 catches, 166 receiving yards and one TD to his name. But with an injury in the first quarter to leading receiver Hunter Hagdorn, that changed against the Bulldogs as Mellor nearly doubled those numbers, leading the Big Green with seven catches for 133 yards, including a 40-yard jaunt into the end zone. It was the first 100-yard game for a Dartmouth receiver this year and the first of his career.
While sophomore Isiah Swann didn't have to dive for his interception against Yale on Oct. 7, he could have dove into the end zone as he sprinted 47 yards after his pick for a touchdown and Dartmouth’s first points of the afternoon, beginning the rally from a 21-0 deficit. It was the Green’s second pick-six of the year, the first coming courtesy of D.J. Avery in the season opener at Stetson on a 30-yard return. The two defensive touchdowns make Dartmouth one of just 29 FCS teams with at least two this season; four programs have had four (North Carolina A&T, Norfolk State, Campbell and Central Connecticut State).
300 Passing Yards
Senior Jack Heneghan posted his fifth career 300-yard passing game in the thrilling, 28-27 victory over Yale on homecoming. That matches Jay Fiedler ’94 for the second most in Big Green history, trailing only Dalyn Williams ’16 who had seven. Fiedler has the most at Memorial Field, however, with four 300-yard games, with Heneghan right behind him with three. No one else has more than two on the home turf.
Taking Care of the Ball
While Heneghan did suffer his first intercepted pass of the season against Yale, on his 94th attempt, it was just the fourth turnover of the season for the Big Green a total bested by just seven other FCS squads. And only three schools have yet to throw a pick this year, all three of which are among the top-five teams nationally — No. 2 North Dakota State (111 attempts) No. 4 South Dakota (163) and No. 5 Wofford (59).
Smith Pushing His Limits
Senior PK David Smith split the uprights with a 43-yard field goal to end the first half at Penn, giving Dartmouth a three-point lead at the break, 10-7. It was a career long for the Canadian, marking the second straight week he broke his personal mark. Against Holy Cross on Sept. 23, he had a 42-yarder early in the second quarter. Smith has also converted all 36 of his PAT attempts in his career.
Dartmouth has won its last three games by a combined five points, something that has not happened not only in Big Green history, but for any Ivy League team. The previous Dartmouth record for smallest margin in three consecutive victories came in 1971 against Brown (10-7), Harvard (16-13) and Yale (17-15) for a total of eight points. Only three Ancient Eight teams have had three victories at any point in one season with a smaller margin than the five from these three contests — Penn in 1976 (3 points), Cornell in 2000 (3) and Columbia in 1971 (4).