Big Game for the “Big” Schools
In order for Dartmouth to remain a player in the race for the Ivy League title, it will need to knock off one of the three teams atop the standings on Saturday with Cornell coming to town. With six teams within a game of each other at the top of the heap, the conference crown is far from decided.
The Big Green are coming off a second straight heartbreaking loss in the final minutes at Harvard, 25-22, and have had each of their last six contests decided by no more than five points. Inconsistency on offense has plagued Dartmouth, usually in the first half, but last week its troubles reared up in the second half when the Green recorded just one first down on their first four possessions after the intermission.
This week, Dartmouth has the fortune of going up a team that it has won eight straight against in the Big Red, its longest current streak of success against any Ivy team. Last year it took a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to knock off Cornell in Ithaca, 17-13, as the Big Green ran out the final 5:56 to secure the win.
Quarterback Jack Heneghan has put up solid numbers across the board for Dartmouth, with a league-best 13-4 TD-to-INT ratio while completing 63.7 percent of his passes. Should he match his passing yardage total from last week (215), he will move up to fourth on the Big Green all-time passing leaders with over 4,500 yards.
Heneghan has a strong set of receivers at which to throw, led by the 2016 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Hunter Hagdorn, who leads Dartmouth with 30 catches and 314 yards despite missing essentially two full games. Emory Thompson, Drew Estrada and Dylan Mellor each have had big games this season as well, and Ryder Stone is an effective receiver out of the backfield.
Stone heads up the running game with a team-best 404 yards on the ground and over 1,200 in his career to go with 18 rushing touchdowns. The Big Green will shuttle in Wildcat QB Jared Gerbino throughout the day, leading to jet sweeps, handoffs and keepers to put the defense on its heels. Gerbino is second on the team in rushing with Heneghan third, and that doesn’t even bring in to play Rashaad Cooper and Miles Smith, the latter who was All-Ivy honorable mention a year ago but started slow this year due to an injury.
The defense is led by linebackers Jack Traynor and Eric Meile. Traynor, second in the league with 71 tackles, recorded a career-best 17 stops at Harvard, one week after Meile had 16 against Columbia. Coach Teevens likes to rotate his defensive players to keep them fresh, leading to 10 different defenders getting in on at least one sack this year and 21 boasting a tackle for a loss. But the Green need to get back into the turnover business after failing to record one last week for the first time all year.
Special teams have generally been excellent this year, but last week a blocked punt and a fumbled punt due to a block into return man Danny McManus led to a pair of Crimson scores. Tightening up play in that area against Cornell will go a long way toward a victory. McManus is still 15th nationally with a punt return average of over 10 yards per return.
Scouting the Big Red
Picked to finish last in the Ivy League preseason poll, the Cornell Big Red are proving the naysayers wrong with their 3-1 record in conference play. Last week they pulled off a shocking, 29-28, road win at Princeton thanks to a 43-yard field goal with 48 seconds remaining. The Tigers nearly stole the game back, but a 44-yard field goal attempt fell short.
The Big Red also have a three-point victory over Harvard and a 34-7 shellacking of Brown on its ledger, giving them three victories in the Ancient Eight for the first time in six years. While Cornell has outscored its Ivy opponents by a mere six points, they have been outscored overall by a 186-143 margin with losses in all three non-conference games.
Dalton Banks heads up the offense that ranks seventh in the league in total yards, completing 64.1 percent (141-of-220) of his passes while averaging just over 200 yards. But the junior has thrown just five touchdown tosses while getting picked off 12 times, the most in the Ivy League. Opposing defenses have also sacked him more than three times per game.
Cornell rotates several running backs in and out, with three each totaling between 200 and 300 yards. Chris Walker was the featured back with 80 carries for 282 yards (3.5-yard average), but was lost for the rest of the season due to an injury last week. Harold Coles has been the most explosive with a whopping 8.6-yard average on 34 rushes, one being a 90-yard TD sprint against Yale. The Big Red also have 5-11, 236-pound Jack Gellatly and his 4.3-yard average.
James Hubbard leads the receiving corps with 25 catches for 297 yards, and he is one of six different players to catch exactly one scoring strike. Walker and Gellatly have combined for 42 receptions between them, and Owen Peters (23 receptions, 195 yards, TD) is another favorite target of Banks.
The Cornell defense has been particularly effective against the pass, leading the league at 180.6 yards allowed per game. A good bit of credit for that goes to senior safety Nick Gesualdi, a former Ivy League Rookie of the Year, who has three pass breakups and leads the team with two interceptions. The defensive line, particularly end Cyrus Nolan (4.5 sacks) and tackle Jordan Landsman (3.0) has helped the Big Red rank second in the league in sacks, as have linebackers Reis Seggebruch (3.0) and Kurt Frimel (team-best 8.5 TFL).
While Nickolas Null has successfully taken over the kicking duties for injured Zach Mays the last two weeks, earning Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week both times, he has retained his punting duties as well, averaging over 41 yards per boot.
Cornell is led by The Roger J. Weiss ’61 Head Coach of Football David Archer, a 2005 graduate of the university. The former Big Red captain was the youngest Division I head coach in the country when hired before the 2013 season and has led the team to a 12-35 record in four-plus seasons. He has had 23 All-Ivy League selections, including the league’s Rookie of the Year in each of his first two campaigns, as well as a quartet of All-Americans.
Last Time Against Cornell
Last year’s game would have fit right into this year’s schedule as Dartmouth trailed the Big Red by 10 entering the fourth quarter. The Big Green then put together consecutive touchdown drives with Miles Smith running in from a yard and Jack Heneghan hitting Charles Mack from 7 yards out to pull out a 17-13 win, Dartmouth’s lone Ivy victory of the year. Cornell had the ball for just 2:05 during the final period while mustering only one first down, and the Green ran out the final 5:56 while traversing a mere 43 yards.
Ivy League Race
With six teams within a game of first place in the Ivy League, it’s anyone’s guess who will win (or share) the crown. And the range of possibilities is almost endless, from one team winning the title outright with one or even two losses, to a full-blown tie for first among seven teams with 4-3 records. That’s right, a seven-way tie is still in play. But let’s just focus on how Dartmouth could (realistically) earn its 19th conference crown without sharing it:
• Dartmouth beats Cornell, Brown and Princeton.
• Cornell loses at Dartmouth and at Penn, beats Columbia at home.
• Columbia loses to Harvard at home and Cornell on the road.
• Yale loses at Princeton and at home to Harvard.
• Harvard loses at home to Penn, beats Columbia and Yale on the road.
That’s it! Simple enough …
With the 25-22 loss at Harvard on Oct. 28, Dartmouth has fallen in its last 14 games against the Crimson, and 19 of the last 20. Of the last five defeats, four have been by three points or less. In 2013, the Crimson booted a 23-yard field goal with less than a minute to play for a 24-21 triumph. Two years ago, Harvard scored two touchdowns in the final half of the fourth quarter to ruin Dartmouth’s quest for a perfect season in a 14-13 thriller. And last year the Crimson nipped the Green by two, 23-21.
Turnover Turnaround Trouble
In each of the first six games of the 2017 season, Dartmouth had never had more turnovers than its opponent, a big reason why it had won five of those contests. But at Harvard, the Big Green coughed the ball up three times, the first two leading to Crimson touchdowns, making the difference in the 25-22 defeat.
Close games have been a calling card for Dartmouth lately with 14 of its past 18 games decided by single digits. Last year, the Big Green had six games decided by four points or less, going 3-3 in those contests. This year, each of the last six games has been decided no more than five points, with four ending in Big Green victories by a combined total of eight points. The previous Dartmouth record for smallest margin in four consecutive victories came in 1971 against Penn (19-3), Brown (10-7), Harvard (16-13) and Yale (17-15) for a total of 24. Smallest margin in four Big Green wins at any point during a season was 13 in 1963 and again in 1977. Only two Ancient Eight teams have had four victories in a season with a smaller margin — Columbia in 1971 (6) and Cornell in 2000 (7).
Hagdorn Hits 1,000
In the 25-22 loss at Harvard on Oct. 28, sophomore Hunter Hagdorn caught six passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, becoming the 21st Big Green receiver to amass 1,000 receiving yards in a career (1,020). The week before, he posted his fourth career 100-yard game (and first of the year) hauling in eight passes for exactly 100 yards against Columbia.
On the Tackle Trayn(or)
Junior LB Jack Traynor one-upped his fellow linebacker Eric Meile against Harvard by recording a career-high 17 tackles, one more than Meile had the previous week against Columbia. Those 17 stops were the most for a Big Green defender since … Meile recorded 17 against Princeton last year. Well that was an easy dive into the record books.
Estrada from CHiPs
This Estrada is not Erik, but Drew instead, and CHiPs doesn’t stand for California Highway Patrol, but rather Catches His Passes (work with me here). Against Harvard, the sophomore hauled in a team-best seven passes for 58 yards (both career highs). Over the last three games Estrada has 11 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown as he has become more and more trusted as a target, and he is second on the team with 398 all-purpose yards.
Stone’s Throw from 20 TDs
Senior RB Ryder Stone produced a 10-yard touchdown run at Harvard for his 18th career rushing score. With two more TDs on the ground, Stone would become just the 10th Big Green player ever to run for 20 in a career. Of the nine to do so, only three have come in the last three decades — Jon Aljancic ’97 (21), Nick Schwieger ’12 (26) and Dominick Pierre ’14 (30). The school record is 33 held by Myles Lane, Class of 1928. In addition, his career average per carry of 4.94 yards is 10th best in Dartmouth history, just ahead of Schwieger (4.85).
Heneghan Tops 4,000 Passing Yards
With a 14-yard completion to Emory Thompson with less than five minutes to play against Columbia, senior QB Jack Heneghan became the seventh Big Green player to throw for 4,000 yards in a career. He enters today’s game with 4,288, and with 212 more would jump three spots on the Dartmouth all-time list into fourth ahead of Conner Kempe ’12.
Heneghan has also thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of the Big Green’s seven games this season, in eight straight dating back to last year and in 15 of the 17 games since the start of the 2016 campaign. Only two Dartmouth QBs have had streaks of eight games or more with a TD pass in a single season — Frank Polsinello ’84 in 1983 (8) and Jay Fiedler ’94 in 1992 (all 10).
The Offense Can Score Two Points?
You will have to forgive the Dartmouth coaching staff if they had forgotten that its offense could score two points on a play. Before Jack Heneghan hit Drew Hunnicutt with a pass for a two-point conversion at Sacred Heart on Oct. 14, the Big Green had not successfully converted a two-point try in 10 years. Tim McManus ’11, eldest brother of current Dartmouth cornerback Danny McManus, was the last to score a two-point conversion on Oct. 13, 2007 against Holy Cross on a pass from Alex Jenny ’10. Granted, the Big Green had only attempted four in the 10 years between conversions … but then Dartmouth went ahead and got another two-point conversion two weeks later at Harvard on a pass from Heneghan to Dylan Mellor, the first season with two successful two-point tries since 1998.