WORCESTER, Mass. — Sophomore Riley Lyons calmly drilled a 31-yard field goal with one second to play, lifting the visiting Dartmouth Big Green to a 13-10 victory against Holy Cross in its homecoming game at Fitton Field on Saturday afternoon. Dartmouth (2-0) ended a four-game slide at the venue to win its fifth straight game dating back to last year, its longest win streak in 15 years.
The Crusaders (0-3) managed just 199 yards of offense in losing their third straight game to open the 2012 campaign. Quarterback Ryan Laughlin, playing for injured fifth-year senior Kevin Watson, completed 21-of-30 passes, but for only 106 yards.
Lyons’ heroics were set up by the defense. With the score knotted at 10 and Holy Cross in possession of the ball well in its own territory with under a minute to play, the game appeared to be headed to overtime. But on a 3rd-and-14 play, freshman cornerback Vernon Harris jarred the ball loose from receiver Sam Auffant, and senior defensive end Teddy Reed pounced on the loose ball at the Crusader 31 with just 11 seconds on the clock.
Sophomore quarterback Alex Park connected with classmate Ryan McManus on a 17-yard pass, putting the Big Green well within field-goal range. Lyons came on and, after a Holy Cross timeout in an attempt to ice him, calmly split the uprights with plenty to spare and one second to go. The ensuing return on the squib kick failed to gain yardage to end the game.
“I've never had the opportunity to kick a game-winner, even in high school,” Lyons said after the game. “Coach Teevens told me during the timeout, ‘This is why you play the game.’ I had been hoping for an opportunity like this, though I would certainly welcome winning by a larger margin. But our defense made a big play and the pass to Ryan put me in a good position to make the kick.”
Holy Cross opened up a 10-0 lead through the first quarter. Dartmouth failed to get a first down on the opening possession, and the Crusaders took over at their own 41. From there, Holy Cross traveled the 59 yards, aided by a personal foul penalty, to take a 7-0 lead on a one-yard dive by Eddie Houghton.
Park was intercepted near midfield on the next drive, which Holy Cross converted into a 46-yard field goal by John Macomber.
Early in the second quarter, Park took a solid hit while throwing a pass that fell incomplete. He was shaken up on the play and replaced by freshman Dalyn Williams behind center. After getting tripped up on the first snap for a three-yard loss, Williams heaved a 39-yard bomb down the right sideline to senior Michael Reilly, who made a spectacular diving catch at the Crusader 10. Three rushes later by junior Dominick Pierre, the Big Green were in the end zone, cutting the deficit to three points at 10-7.
The Dartmouth defense came up with a big stop on fourth down at midfield, stonewalling Laughlin who attempted a keeper to gain the foot needed for the first down. Williams ran for a pair of first downs into the red zone, but the Green ended up settling for a 34-yard field goal by Lyons — the first of his career — tying the game at 10.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kalif Raymond brought the ball out from the end zone and beat the coverage into the open field. He was caught, however, by Lyons who came up with a touchdown-saving tackle at the Big Green 31. The defense quickly got the ball back on downs, and neither side threatened to score for the remainder of the half.
The second half proved to be a defensive struggle as neither side could advance past the other team’s 30. Holy Cross punted away on each of its first four possessions in the half, while Dartmouth punted twice, and turned the ball over on downs once and an interception by Tom Mannix another time.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Big Green senior safety Garrett Waggoner forced a fumble and recovered it at midfield, giving Dartmouth a golden opportunity to take the lead. A personal foul after the play even pushed the Green to the Holy Cross 35. But a third-down sack of Park sent Dartmouth back to the 40, forcing another punt.
The battle of field position continued as both sides punted once more, with Holy Cross taking over at its 20 with 56 seconds to play. Five plays later, Harris forced the fumble and the stage for the winning field goal was set.
Park finished the afternoon 9-of-17 for 114 yards with a pair of picks. Williams spelled him at times, throwing for 45 yards on 3-of-6 passing while rushing 12 times for 46 yards. Pierre was the game’s leading rusher, grinding out 85 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, leaving him one yard shy of 1,000 for his career. The top receiver of the afternoon was Reilly, making five grabs for 83 yards.
Junior Michael Runger was the workhorse on defense, making a career-high 15 tackles, nine solo. Freshman Cody Fulleton recorded his first career sack, while Reed and senior Elliot Kastner combined forces on another sack.
Holy Cross finished the game with 199 yards of offense with Houghton gaining 55 on the ground on 16 rushes. Kyle Toulose hauled in six passes for 35 yards.
Dartmouth starts play in the Ivy League next Saturday when it hosts Penn (0-2) for a noon game to be televised nationally by NBC Sports Network. Holy Cross travels to Harvard for a night game on Saturday at 7 p.m.