at STETSON (0-2)
SPEC MARTIN MEMORIAL STADIUM
Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 • 6 p.m.
First-Ever Game for Big Green in Florida
Dartmouth opens its 2017 football season as it never has before with the first game being held in the state of Florida at Stetson of the Pioneer Football League. Hurricane Irma nearly ruined this historic occasion, but thankfully the damage wasn’t as terrible as it could have been, allowing the Hatters to play the role of gracious host.
The Big Green have anxiously been awaiting this opportunity to put the 2016 season in their rearview mirror after following up its first Ivy League title in 19 years by posting a 4-6 record last year. But Dartmouth has reason for optimism in this game having won its last seven openers, including a 22-21 upset of No. 22 New Hampshire last year.
Not only is this the first game for the Green within the state of Florida, but their first against Stetson ever. Dartmouth has won their past seven games when playing an opponent for the first time, dating back to a 29-20 win over Rutgers in 1952. Four of those seven first-time opponents have come in the past eight seasons.
This year’s team, led by Robert L. Blackman Head Coach Buddy Teevens in his 18th season in Hanover, features a number of skill position players back in the fold on offense, one of which is tri-captain Jack Heneghan behind center. The senior threw for 2,725 yards last year, third most in Dartmouth history, and posted nearly 3,000 yards of total offense. The coaching staff is looking for Heneghan to clean up the mistakes last year that led to a touchdown-interception ratio of 11-to-14.
The receiving corps returns its top three receivers from last year, led by 2016 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Hunter Hagdorn. Both Drew Hunnicutt and Emory Thompson had at least 30 catches, plus Charles Mack led the Big Green with three TDs, giving Heneghan plenty of targets from which to pick.
Like the receivers, the top three rushers are back as well. Junior Miles Smith was an All-Ivy honorable mention after averaging more than five yards per carry, and senior Ryder Stone has 16 rushing touchdowns in his career. Add Rashaad Cooper (4.9 yards per carry) into the fold and Dartmouth has three legitimate backs to keep everyone fresh.
The offensive line is much more of an unknown with the right side featuring new starters. But left tackle Matt Kaskey, an All-Ivy honorable mention, and left guard John Kilcommons are back to protect Heneghan’s blind side. How well the components gel early in the season will go a long way toward improving the offensive attack.
The defense has the parts to overcome the graduation of last year’s Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Folarin Orimolade, beginning up front on the line. Junior Jackson Perry essentially missed the entire 2016 season, but he is potentially a great disruptor to both the run and pass game. And with All-Ivy second-teamer Nick Tomkins on one of the ends and a healthy Jeremiah Douchee on the other, the front three will be quite formidable.
The Dartmouth linebackers are always strong having had at least one All-Ivy first teamer each of the past five seasons. Senior Eric Meile, last year’s second-leading tackler, will patrol the middle of the field, flanked by juniors Jake Moen and Jack Traynor, with plenty of athletes chomping at the bit to get their opportunity on the field.
Senior David Smith returns for placekicking duties after making all 23 PATs and 7-of-12 field goals a year ago. But the Green have a new punter in sophomore Davis Brief to replace four-year starter Ben Kepley. He has shown a big leg in the preseason, but consistency will be the key.
Scouting the Hatters
Coming off a 4-7 season last year, Stetson has suffered a pair of defeats on the road to start the 2017 campaign. With four losses to end 2016, the Hatters are looking to end their six-game skid bridging the two seasons in their home opener.
Stetson is also playing with a heavy heart due to the tragic passing of sophomore Nick Blakely during preseason practice.
Dartmouth’s week five opponent, Sacred Heart, took care of the Hatters to start the year with a 42-3 romp in Connecticut, holding the visitors to a mere 145 yards of offense.
Last week, it was fellow Pioneer Football League member Marist holding Stetson to less than 200 yards of offense in a 38-17 win. In each of the Hatters’ last five losses, their opponent has scored at least 38 points.
Collin McGovern handles the signal calling behind center and has completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 313 yards in the first two games. But he has yet to throw a scoring strike and has been victimized for a pair of interceptions thus far.
Donald Parham (11 catches for 98 yards) and Justin Jordan (8 for 87) have caught nearly half of the completions, and Jack Bowen averaged 18 yards on his three catches in the opener before missing last week’s contest.
The featured running back is Bryce Blackmon with 23 carries for 81 yards, a 3.5-yard average. The rest of the team has combined to gain a total of six yards on the ground, though many of the lost yardage has come on six sacks allowed.
If there is one defensive player the Big Green will key on, it will be linebacker Jeb Boudreaux. The 5-10, 200-pound grad student has been a terror with 24 tackles, four for a loss, three of which have been sacks, not to mention a forced fumble, a pass breakup and two QB hurries.
The secondary has not produced an interception as the opposition has averaged nearly 250 yards through the air. Along with the more than 200 yards per game on the ground, Stetson is searching for answers on defense.
Placekicker Jonny Messina has been reliable thus far, converting both field goal attempts and both PATs this season. Punter Matias Gasc has been called upon 16 times to date, averaging 39.2 yards with three inside the 20 and a long of 59 yards.
Dartmouth fans will be familiar with the Stetson head coach, Roger Hughes, who spent eight years as the offensive coordinator at Dartmouth in the 1990s before guiding Princeton for 10 years as the Tigers’ head coach. Hughes is in his fifth season with the Hatters, overseeing the restart of the program in 2013 after a 57-year hiatus, posting a 14-33 mark in DeLand and 61-85 record overall.
The Dartmouth-Stetson football game will be aired on the ESPN streaming service, ESPN3. It is tentative due to the damage that Hurricane Irma left in its wake, which may affect the school’s ability to broadcast the game. But even if video is not available for this contest, the Big Green do have another game scheduled for ESPN3 this fall — homecoming against Yale on Oct. 7.
Last to Kick Off
The Ivy League football schedule always starts a couple of weeks after the rest of Division I. For the fifth time in the last six years, Dartmouth will be the last team to kick off its season, due to the 6 p.m. start time. Each of the other seven conference schools kick off earlier in the day, and all will have been decided save one by the time this game gets under way.
Seven Straight Non-League Wins
Dartmouth enters the season opener having won its last seven non-conference games dating back to the 2014 season, beginning with a 24-21 victory over Holy Cross. Only twice have the Big Green had a longer such stretch of success since Ivy League play began in 1956 — a nine-game streak spanning the 1962-66 seasons and an eight-gamer from 1969-72.
Hovering Around .600
This is the 136th season of football for Dartmouth, during which the Big Green have played 1,189 games and posted a record of 689-454-46, a winning percentage of .599. Should Dartmouth win its first three games this year, that percentage would once again get to .600 (rounded up for math nerds like me). To finish the season at .600, the Green need to post a record of at least 7-3.
Last year, for the first time in eight seasons, the Big Green failed to outperform their expected finish in the preseason poll. After claiming a share of the Ivy League crown in 2015, Dartmouth was picked to finish third last fall, but dropped to eighth thanks to three losses by a combined seven points.
This year, Dartmouth was chosen for a fifth-place showing with Princeton and Harvard tying for the top spot in the standings. Princeton’s co-champ last year, Penn, was pegged for third, though all three teams had at least five first-place votes (the Tigers received six). On a positive note, over the past 20 years, the media has correctly picked the champion just three times — Penn in 2003, and Harvard in 2008 and 2015. The complete poll can be found on page seven of these notes.
The Experience Factor
Dartmouth has a fair amount of experience returning to the field in 2017 with nine offensive starters back and six on defense. The running game remains almost completely intact with 1,216 of its 1,299 yards on the roster (93.6 percent), while quarterback Jack Heneghan accounted for all but 62 of the passing yards (97.8 percent). Very few receivers graduated as well with 2,464 receiving yards (88.4 percent) back in the fold. On defense, two of the top three tacklers moved on, and three of the top six, but the Big Green still have 473 of 748 stops (63.1 percent) on the sideline. Also, five of the seven interceptions are still with the team, as are seven of the nine fumble recoveries.
Returning All-Ivy Performers
Last year, the Big Green claimed a total of 11 players who earned All-Ivy honors, two of which made the first team and another who was Ivy League Rookie of the Year in WR Hunter Hagdorn. Of those 11 players, however, only five return to the field for Dartmouth this fall — second-teamers Hagdorn and DE Nick Tomkins, along with honorable mentions OL Matt Kaskey, LB Eric Meile and RB Miles Smith.
CSM Preseason All-Ivy
The College Sports Madness website released its three preseason All-Ivy League teams, and Dartmouth had 10 players named a total of 11 times with sophomore Hunter Hagdorn earning a spot on the first team at wide receiver and third team as a kick returner. Joining Hagdorn on the first team were junior OL Matt Kaskey and senior LB Eric Meile. Two offensive players (junior RB Miles Smith and senior TE Cameron Skaff) along with a pair of defensive players (senior DL Nick Tomkins and sophomore CB Isiah Swann) were selected for the second team, while junior LB Jack Traynor, senior CB Jarius Brown and senior S Colin Boit made the third team. Harvard led the way with 16 selections over the three teams, and Penn had the most first-team selections with eight.
Still All-Time Ivy Champs
Since the Ivy League began play in 1956, no other school in the conference has won more football titles than Dartmouth with 18. The last time an Ancient Eight squad had more crowns than the Big Green was in 1961 when Yale had the grand total of two. The next season, Dartmouth equaled that total and has never looked up at another team since. But Penn picked up its 18th championship last year to match the Green, putting the 55-year streak in jeopardy should Penn win the race for a third straight year.
Record Book Watch
• While no career records are in jeopardy of being broken, there are a few individuals that can move into the top 10 all-time at Dartmouth in several categories. Jack Heneghan needs to throw for little more than 1,700 yards — 1,000 less than he amassed a year ago — to move into fourth on the career passing yards and total yards charts.
• Senior Ryder Stone is 173 yards shy of becoming the 28th Big Green player to run for 1,000 yards in a career, and with four more rushing touchdowns would become the 10th to run for 20 TDs.
• Should sophomore Hunter Hagdorn match his receiving totals from his Ivy League Rookie of the Year campaign, he would already be tied for 10th in career catches (112).
I imagine most people remember quite a bit from last year, but if you are like me, you still need a little refresher on how things shook out:
• Dartmouth finished the season 4-6 overall but 1-6 in conference play to finish 8th for just the second time in 61 years of Ivy League play (2008). Only Harvard has finished alone in last fewer times (1), with Princeton matching the Big Green total.
• Linebacker Folarin Orimolade became the first Bushnell Cup winner for Dartmouth since Nick Schwieger in 2010 and the first All-American since Schwieger in 2011.
• Wide receiver Hunter Hagdorn picked up some hardware as well by being named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year after catching 56 passes for 706 yards, ranking third and second in the league in those categories, respectively.
• The Big Green began the season with a memorable victory, topping 22nd-ranked New Hampshire, 22-21, thanks to a 15-point rally in the fourth quarter. It was Dartmouth’s first win over UNH in 40 years.
• Three of the losses in league play came by three or fewer points, including a 9-7 wind-blown loss at Columbia. That ended a streak of 51 consecutive games scoring in double figures, the longest in Big Green history.
• The lone conference victory came on the road at Cornell, 17-13, giving the Big Green eight consecutive wins over the Big Red, their longest win streak against any Ancient Eight opponent.
• Dartmouth finished among the top 20 FCS schools in a couple of the major statistical categories with the passing game 15th (278.7 yards per game) and the scoring defense tied for 18th (21.3 points per game).
Following the 2016-17 year, two Dartmouth players were signed by NFL organizations — Bushnell Cup winner Folarin Orimolade (Los Angeles Rams) and Charlie Miller (Jacksonville Jaguars). Neither ended up making their respective teams, though Orimolade made it through the entire preseason before being released. Last year, three Big Green graduates signed free agent deals in Dalyn Williams (Chicago Bears), Jacob Flores (Green Bay Packers) and Vernon Harris (Kansas City Chiefs), none of which are still with those teams. The last Big Green player to play in the NFL was FB Casey Cramer ’04, who played for five years with the Carolina Panthers, Tennesse Titans and Miami Dolphins.
New Coaches on Staff
The Dartmouth coaching staff went through a few changes since the 2016 campaign came to a close. Coach Teevens brought in Kevin Daft, a 1999 graduate of UC Davis and two-time All-American quarterback for the Aggies, to serve as the offensive coordinator. Daft had success at his alma mater in the same role for the past four years.
Also joining the offensive staff is Cheston Blackshear to coach the offensive tackles and tight ends. A 2000 graduate of Florida, Blackshear most recently spent three years at Nevada, and also logged four years at New Mexico prior to a year at Georgetown. He is no stranger to the Ivy League having been on the Columbia staff from 2006-08. As a Gator, he played in four bowl games and won a national championship during his freshman year.