CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Trailing by 11 midway through the fourth quarter, the Dartmouth football team tried to pull off another comeback as it had done three times already this season. But after starting the season 5-0, the Big Green have come up just short the last two weeks, this time dropping a 25-22 contest at Harvard (4-3, 2-2 Ivy) on Saturday afternoon. Tanner Lee intercepted a Jack Heneghan pass that had been tipped into the air with 1:14 to play, foiling the comeback attempt by Dartmouth (5-2, 2-2 Ivy).
The Big Green actually held a 14-12 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Crimson quarterback Jake Smith threw a pair of touchdown passes to give Harvard a 25-14 advantage with 7:21 to play.
Heneghan immediately led Dartmouth on a 10-play, 80-yard drive in just over three minutes, capped by his 6-yard scramble for a touchdown. And when he found junior Dylan Mellor in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion, the Green just needed a field goal to tie the game.
Harvard managed to produce one first down, but was dropped a yard short on third down just past midfield. The punt barely went into the end zone for a touchback, giving Dartmouth possession at its 20 with 1:36 to play and no timeouts.
Heneghan moved the chains twice by completing three of his first four throws. But after an incompletion, his pass to a diving Mellor was tipped into the air, and Lee was there with a diving grab to claim possession. Two kneel downs later and the Crimson had their 14th straight victory over Dartmouth.
The Big Green controlled play for nearly the entire first half, quickly setting the tone by traversing 80 yards to the end zone to open the game. Passes of 17 yards to receiver Drew Estrada — who led Dartmouth with a career-high seven catches for 58 yards — and 20 more to tight end Stephen Johnston keyed the drive, and senior Ryder Stone finished it off with a 10-yard burst up the middle for an early 7-0 lead.
In the second quarter, the Green embarked on a methodical 16-play, 66-yard drive that gobble up nearly eight minutes on the clock to build a 14-0 lead. Twice Dartmouth was able to push forward on 4th-and-1 plays, allowing Heneghan to hit sophomore Hunter Hagdorn with an eight-yard scoring strike.
When Harvard failed to get a first down on its ensuing possession, it looked as if the Big Green would get one last chance before the half to add to their lead. But with Danny McManus signaling for a fair catch on the punt, he was bumped before the ball arrived as the Crimson recovered the football. Although flags were thrown, the final ruling was that a Dartmouth player had blocked a Harvard player into McManus, negating any penalty and giving the Crimson the ball at the Big Green 38 with 1:20 still on the clock.
Harvard took advantage of the opportunity, but only after Smith scrambled his way to a 17-yard gain on 4th-and-8. Two plays later, Smith hit Ryan Antonellis from eight yards out to put the hosts on the board. The PAT failed, however, when the snap was fumbled a bit, and the low kick banged off the right upright, leaving Dartmouth on top at the intermission, 14-6.
In the third quarter, the Big Green offense could not get anything going, gaining just six yards while owning the ball for little more than two minutes. Harvard, meanwhile, began the half by marching 76 yards on 12 plays, ending with another Antonellis touchdown grab, this time on a 4-yard pass by Lavance Northington out of the Wildcat formation. The Crimson went for two points on the PAT, only to have the pass slip through a receiver’s hands, denying Harvard the chance to tie the score.
Harvard nearly took the lead during the third quarter, only to have its 20-yard field goal attempt get pushed wide to the left. After a quick Dartmouth possession, the Crimson broke through to block a punt and took over at the Big Green 13. Six plays later, Smith connected with Henry Taylor on a 4-yard score. Again a two-point conversion failed, keeping Dartmouth within four at 18-14.
Twice the Big Green tried to get their offense moving, only to turn the ball over on an interception first and on downs the second time at their own 29. Harvard took advantage, twice barely converting third-down plays before Smith roamed around the backfield to get extra time to find Aaron Shampklin in the end zone for a 25-14 lead, setting up the ill-fated comeback attempt.
Heneghan finished the day 22-of-34 for 215 yards and a touchdown, but matched his interception total for the season with two picks. Stone led the ground game with 50 yards on a touchdown on 15 carries, but Dartmouth managed just 89 rushing yards and a season-low 304 for the game.
Smith connected on 18-of-35 throws for just 125 yards but three scores, while Charlie Booker ran for 83 yards on 25 carries as Harvard didn’t quite match the Big Green with 298 total yards.
Dartmouth’s defense was led by linebacker Jack Traynor with a career-best 17 tackles, but the Big Green did not recover a turnover. The Crimson, meanwhile, forced three turnovers with Lee leading his team with 10 stops, two pass breakups and the game-clinching pick.
Dartmouth returns home next Saturday to host Ivy co-leader Cornell (3-4, 3-1), which is coming off a late one-point win at Princeton, at 1:30 p.m. The game will be streamed live on the Ivy League Network and broadcast over the airwaves on 94.5 ESPN Radio with Adam Giardino and Wayne Young ’72 calling the action. Harvard will travel to another Ivy League co-leader in Columbia (6-1, 3-1 Ivy) for a showdown at 1 p.m.
Notes: The last team to throw for four or more touchdowns against the Dartmouth defense was New Hampshire back on Sept. 23, 2006, more than 11 years ago ... the last Dartmouth player with at least 17 tackles in a game was Eric Meile last year in the season finale against Princeton when he 17 as well ... Hagdorn became the 21st Big Green receiver with 1,000 receiving in a career with his six caches for 69 yards, ending the game with 1,020 ... Harvard has won 19 of the last 20 meetings between the two teams with the lone Big Green victory coming in 2003 by a final of 30-16.