DARTMOUTH (1-0) vs.
#25 HOLY CROSS (2-1)
Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 • 7 p.m.
Home Opener Versus Holy Cross
Following another successful season opener last week — Dartmouth has won eight straight openers — with a 38-7 romp at Stetson, the Big Green will have a decidedly tougher test with the 25th-ranked Holy Cross Crusaders invading Memorial Field in the 2017 home opener.
The Crusaders received their first national ranking in seven years thanks to a dismantling of ninth-ranked New Hampshire last week, 51-26, not to mention a narrow defeat at FBS member Connecticut three weeks ago and a 20-0 blanking of Bucknell in their Patriot League opener. And after last year’s 35-10 Dartmouth triumph in Worcester — the Green’s fourth win in the series in the last six meetings — Holy Cross will be coming to town with revenge on its collective mind.
It took little more than one quarter for Dartmouth to begin asserting itself at Stetson last week, then really took off after halftime, turning a 10-7 advantage into a 31-point victory. Five different players scored their first Big Green touchdowns, and the ground game churned out 324 yards, the most in four years.
Junior Rashaad Cooper (14 carries, 97 yards, TD) and senior Ryder Stone (17-96) provided nearly 200 of those rushing yards, with senior QB Jack Heneghan (9-57) keeping the Hatter defense bewildered. Wildcat QB Jared Gerbino and junior RB Matthew Shearin both ran for touchdowns as well as Dartmouth spread the wealth in the backfield.
The air attack sputtered a bit, amassing just 82 yards, including minus-three in the first half, on 7-of-13 passing. The effectiveness of the running game opened things up in the second half, allowing Heneghan to connect with senior TE Cam Poole on a five-yard score.
The Big Green were missing two of their three starting receivers, however — 2016 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Hunter Hagdorn and senior Charles Mack — both of whom are expected to be on the field this weekend. Another player who could return is junior RB Miles Smith, Dartmouth’s leading rusher last year and an All-Ivy honorable mention.
Though the Green put 38 points on the board, the defense was the real star of the game, yielding less than 100 yards in all and a paltry minus-three yards on the ground, the fewest for an opponent in at least 45 years.
Senior LB Eric Meile set the tone with an interception on the game’s first play from scrimmage, while junior nose guard Jackson Perry, after missing essentially the entire 2016 season, made up for lost time with a team-high eight tackles, 3.5 for a loss with 1.5 sacks. In addition, sophomore nickel D.J. Avery had a pick-six late in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
The kicking game was mostly effective, save a missed 22-yard field goal in the game’s first minutes. Senior David Smith made up for that miss with a 25-yarder just before the half to give the Green the lead at the intermission. Making his varsity debut was sophomore Davis Brief, averaging 36.2 yards on six punts, including one inside the 20-yard line. The return game was oustanding with senior Danny McManus amassing 66 yards on three punt returns and senior Jarius Brown bringing back a pair of kickoffs 29 yards each time.
Scouting the Crusaders
With wins in its last two games and a narrow loss on the road at UConn, Holy Cross is shaping up as a power player in the Patriot League this year.
The powerful offense is guided by a familiar figure to Big Green fans, fifth-year quarterback Peter Pujals. He put up big numbers in each of his first two games against Dartmouth, but last year saw his season come to a premature end when he suffered a broken leg in the second quarter as the Green went on to enjoy its largest margin of victory over Holy Cross in 19 years (35-10).
This year, Pujals has thrown for over 350 yards twice, ranks fifth in passing yards among FCS QBs and last week torched the Wildcats defense for five touchdown tosses. He is not the dual threat he was when he first arrived in Worcester, but has become quite an accomplished pocket passer.
Blaise Bell is the favorite target on the team with 17 catches for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns, though Martin Dorsey leads the squad with 219 yards on just nine receptions, two of which have ended in the end zone. Two others have at least 11 grabs, helping the Crusaders spread the field.
The ground game is led by a three-headed monster in Diquan Walker, Gabe Guild and Miles Alexander, each of whom has 20-25 carries. The first two have averaged about 5.5 yards per carry, and Walker has three of the team’s four rushing touchdowns to date.
The defense has been just as good led by linebackers Nick McBeath (34 tackles) and Ryan Brady (32). Each one also has two sacks and two other tackles for a loss, while the former also has the Crusaders’ lone interception and one of six fumble recoveries. Jack Kutschke has been the most effective lineman with five tackles for a loss, and the defense has broken up no less than 20 passes, led by corner Ahmad Tyler with four.
Holy Cross is not afraid to call upon its kicker as A.J. Wells has converted 7-of-8 field goal attempts already this season, with his longest coming from 46 yards out. Wells also contributed six punts at Bucknell, but Will McGrail is the starter there with an average of better than 41 yards per boot.
Former Dartmouth assistant Tom Gilmore is in his 14th season at Holy Cross, having come to the Patriot League school after serving four years as the defensive coordinator at Lehigh and eight years as an assistant at Dartmouth. He sports a 72-77 record entering today’s game, and in 2009 led the Patriots to their first conference title in 18 years to advance to the NCAA Playoffs and earn Patriot League and New England Coach of the Year honors. An Academic All-American at Penn, Gilmore graduated in 1986 and garnered the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Player of the Year.
Last Year Against Holy Cross
When Dartmouth played in Worcester last year, the Crusaders needed less than 90 seconds to reach the end zone. The rest of the game, however, was painted green as the Big Green overwhelmed their host, 35-10.
Dartmouth answered with two first-quarter touchdowns of its own on a Hunter Hagdorn 10-yard run and a Miles Smith 35-yard gallop. In the second quarter, Holy Cross QB Peter Pujals was knocked out of the game — and the season — with a broken leg, and the Crusaders never recovered.
Darius George covered up a bad snap on a punt attempt in the end zone just before the half for a 21-7 lead at the break, and the Green tacked on touchdowns in each of the final two quarters. Dartmouth finished the game with 453 total yards while holding Holy Cross to just 285 and forcing four turnovers.
Eight Straight Non-League Wins
With the 38-7 win at Stetson, Dartmouth has now won its last eight 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 as long a 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.
Dartmouth scored five touchdowns in its season-opening victory at Stetson, and every one of those scores were the first in the career for each player:
• Junior Rashaad Cooper had the first points with a 10-yard touchdown run.
• Sophomore Jared Gerbino punched into the end zone from a yard out.
• Senior Cam Poole hauled in a five-yard toss.
• Sophomore D.J. Avery picked off a Hatter pass and returned it 30 yards to the house.
• Junior Matthew Shearin scampered 16 yards up the middle to complete the game’s scoring.
The last time five different Big Green players scored touchdowns in the same game was just last year against this week’s opponent, Holy Cross. The 38 points were also the most for Dartmouth since a 41-20 victory at Penn on Oct. 3, 2015.
Cooper and Stone
Tell me that wouldn’t be a great title for a buddy flick. You can’t do it. In the season opener, the two buddies shared the load carrying the ball as each just narrowly missed out on 100-yard games. Rashaad Cooper finished the day with a career-high 97 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, while Ryder Stone had 96 on 17 rushes (not to mention a 57-yard burst that was called back due to a penalty). The last two Dartmouth players to top 100 in the same game were former QB Dalyn Williams ’16 (100) and … Stone (career-high 114) against Brown on Nov. 15, 2014. Guess that was the prequel to my imaginary movie, which could also be about making barrels and filling them with rocks.
How Many Yards?
Led by Cooper and Stone, Dartmouth amassed 324 yards on the ground, a total surpassed just twice this millennium — 330 at Cornell on Nov. 3, 2012 and 325 against Columbia on Oct. 26, 2013. On the flip side, the 82 passing yards mark the first time the Big Green failed to reach 100 since a 28-24 victory over Princeton in the snow at Memorial Field four years ago (92). The last time with less than 82 yards through the air? The 2011 season opener versus Colgate (62), also a Dartmouth win at 37-20. And the seven completions were the fewest over the last 20 years save that 2013 Princeton game as well (4).
How Many Yards? Part II
The Dartmouth defense produced one of its stingiest games of the past 50-plus years when it beat Stetson 38-7 on Sept. 16. The Hatter offense mustered just 94 total yards, the fewest for a Big Green opponent in 25 years (Oct. 10, 1992 vs. Holy Cross — 92), and had negative yardage on the ground (minus-3). The last team to rush for fewer yards against Dartmouth was New Hampshire with minus-38 — a Big Green record — in the 1965 season opener, 52 years ago.
For the first time in 19 games, a Dartmouth defender intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown as sophomore D.J. Avery snared one for a 30-yard score late in the third quarter. The last TD on an INT was pulled off by David Caldwell ’16 with a 77-yarder against Sacred Heart on Sept. 26, 2015.
Heneghan Tops 3,000 Total Yards
With his 29-yard keeper early in the second quarter at Stetson, senior QB Jack Heneghan became the 12th Big Green player to reach 3,000 total yards in a career. He finished the day with 3,119, tying Jim Chasey ’71 for 11th on the Dartmouth all-time list. Next milestone for Heneghan is 3,000 passing yards, which is just 165 yards in the future.
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 was the last team to kick off its season, due to the 6 p.m. start time. Each of the other seven conference schools kicked off earlier in the day.
Hovering Around .600
This is the 136th season of football for Dartmouth, during which the Big Green have played 1,190 games and posted a record of 690-454-46, a winning percentage of .599. Should Dartmouth win its next two games, 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.
Quick Fun Fact
Dartmouth scored 21 points in the third quarter at Stetson, nearly matching its entire total from the 2016 season in that period (24).