For the third time in as many Ivy League games, Dartmouth will play an undefeated opponent from the Ancient Eight with Columbia in town. This one has a little more meaning, however, as just the 11th meeting in conference history between two undefeated teams at least five games into the season.
Both teams have relied on some late-game heroics to get to this point, however, with the Big Green winning its last four games by a combined eight points, and the Lions beating Princeton and Penn in the final minutes of play. Last week, Dartmouth overcame a 12-point deficit in the second half, scoring the winning TD early in the fourth quarter and adding its first two-point conversion in 10 years for a 29-26 triumph at Sacred Heart.
Quarterback Jack Heneghan continued his efficient season, completing 14-of-21 throws for 247 yards and a career-high four touchdowns against one pick. The senior has completed 64.9 percent of his passes this year (16th nationally) with a TD-INT ratio of 11-2.
While WR Hunter Hagdorn, the 2016 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, sat out the Sacred Heart game, he may return to the gridiron this week. But should he not, Dartmouth still has a bevy of receivers for Heneghan with which to connect. Senior Emory Thompson has emerged as a reliable possession receiver, hauling in the last two touchdowns last week, both with the Big Green inside the 10. And juniors Drew Hunnicutt and Dylan Mellor each recorded a career high in receiving yards in one of the last two games, topping 100 in each instance.
The running game was bolstered by the return of Rashaad Cooper, giving Dartmouth a trio of backs to take handoffs. Ryder Stone, who surpassed 1,000 career yards three weeks ago, leads the team with 332 yards on the ground to go with a 5.1-yard average per carry. A 2016 All-Ivy League honorable mention, Miles Smith has been rounding into shape since missing most of the preseason, showing flashes of his sophomore form at Sacred Heart.
Anchoring the defensive unit are linebackers Jack Traynor and Eric Meile who rank 2-3 in the Ancient Eight in tackles with 47 and 42, respectively. Last week nickelback Kyran McKinney-Crudden was busy, collecting a team-high 13 stops and providing the biggest play of the game with his interception at the 1-yard line to thwart a Pioneer scoring opportunity late in the fourth quarter. Traynor also had an interception in the waning seconds to ensure the Dartmouth victory.
Special teams continued to be just that, special, with Davis Brief punting eight times with a net average of 37 yards. His last kick was his most important with the Green pinned at their 10 in the final minute, booming a high 48-yarder to allow the coverage to send the returner for a loss of six yards. And with an injury to punt returner Danny McManus, Mellor stepped up and ripped off a 57-yard return to the Pioneer 4-yard line to set up Dartmouth’s third-quarter touchdown.
Scouting the Lions
For just the second time since World War II, Columbia finds itself with a 5-0 record. Like the Big Green, Columbia’s league matchups have gone down to the wire, besting Princeton, 28-24, on a 63-yard touchdown pass with 1:12 to play, and nipping Penn last week in overtime, 34-31, by rallying from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
In that most recent win over the Quakers, Columbia was rewarded with three of the four Ivy League Players of the Week (offense, defense and rookie). Wide receiver Josh Wainwright picked up the offensive hardware for snaring 10 passes for a whopping 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He leads the league and ranks 10th nationally with over 100 yards per game, while wideout Ronald Smith II makes a nice tandem with over 80 yards per game.
Anders Hill has been the beneficiary of those two talents, throwing for 273 yards a game, which ranks 15th among FCS quarterbacks. The senior has completed 63.6 percent of his passes and connected on 13 scoring strikes while being picked off six times. He also has good mobility, ranking third on the team in rushing and punching it into the end zone twice.
The running game does not feature a workhorse, but Tanner Thomas and Chris Schroer have combined for over 20 carries and 85 yards a game. In goal-line situations, however, look for Josh Bean to take direct snaps and plow his way into the end zone; the rookie QB has five of the Lions’ eight rushing TDs despite carrying the ball just 14 times.
Columbia has been particularly adept at keeping drives alive, converting 51.1 percent of third-down opportunities (fifth in FCS) and 66.7 percent of fourth-down tries (16th).
The Lions defense has been a bit stingy, yielding about 315 yards every Saturday, second only to Harvard in the Ivy League, but has surrendered 20 points a game. Safeties Ryan Gilbert and Landon Baty top the team with 40 and 36 tackles, respectively, while Benjamin McKeighan is the top cover man with a pair of picks and two other passes broken up, but Justin Woodley also has two interceptions and fellow corner Cameron Roane has defended four passes.
Pressure on the Big Green quarterback will likely come in the form of blitzes by linebackers. Columbia is last in the league with four sacks, none by linemen listed on the depth chart, though the team does have 15 quarterback hurries to its credit. It was linebacker Michael Murphy who won the defensive weekly honor from the league office after posting 12 tackles, 4.5 for a loss and one sack, as well as recovering two fumbles.
Dartmouth fans will remember place kicker, Oren Milstein, who booted three field goals in the Lions’ win over the Big Green last year. Punter Parker Thome leads the conference with nearly 44 yards per punt as well.
Columbia is in its third season under the guidance of the dean of Ivy League coaches, Al Bagnoli, who spent 23 seasons crafting a legacy at Penn. The Patricia and Shepard Alexander Head Coach of Football built a 148-80 mark with the Quakers, including a 112-49 record in conference play while boasting nine league titles before retiring from his post in Philadelphia. Now in his 36th season as a head coach, Bagnoli sports an overall record of 244-112 with a mark of 10-15 since joining the Lions.
Eleven Sports Network
The showdown of the last two Ivy League undefeated teams will be televised live on the Eleven Sports Network and simulcast online via the Ivy League Network. If the station’s last three Ivy broadcasts are any indication, fans should get ready for a barn-burner. Both of Columbia’s nail-biting league victories were shown on Eleven, with the Cornell 17-14 victory over Harvard sandwiched in between.
Rare Game of Undefeated Ivies
While this is the third consecutive Ivy League game Dartmouth is playing against an undefeated team, it is quite rare for two Ancient Eight teams without a loss to square off this late in the season. Only 10 times previously have two undefeated Ivy squads met on the gridiron at least five games into a season:
1964 — Princeton (7-0) beat Yale (6-0-1)
1965 — Dartmouth (8-0) beat Princeton (8-0)
1968 — Harvard (5-0) beat Penn (5-0)
1968 — Harvard (8-0) and Yale (8-0) tied
1970 — Dartmouth (5-0) beat Yale (5-0)
1993 — Penn (7-0) beat Princeton (7-0)
2001 — Harvard (8-0) beat Penn (8-0)
2004 — Harvard (8-0) beat Penn (8-0)
2006 — Princeton (5-0) beat Harvard (5-0)
2015 — Harvard (6-0) beat Dartmouth (6-0)
Dartmouth has won its last four games by a combined eight points, something that has not happened not only in Big Green history, but for any Ivy League team. 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 points. 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).
Last Time Against Columbia
The wind was the big winner last year at Wien Stadium, wreaking havoc on both teams as the Lions prevailed in a low-scoring, 9-7 final. Wind gusts of 50 mph were prevalent throughout the game, but Lion kicker Oren Milstein was able to navigate the blustery conditions to drill three field goals to account for all of Columbia’s points. The lone Dartmouth score came on the longest play of the season, a 65-yard bomb from Jack Heneghan to Hunter Hagdorn. The two teams combined to convert just 4-of-35 third-down attempts as the defenses ruled. The Big Green took two long field goal attempts with the wind in the fourth quarter, but neither could find the middle of the uprights.
Ten Straight Non-League Wins
With the 29-26 win at Sacred Heart on Oct. 14, Dartmouth has now won its last 10 non-conference games dating back to the 2014 season, beginning with a 24-21 victory over Holy Cross. This is the longest successful streak against teams outside the Ivy League for the Big Green since formal conference play began in 1956.
Tale of Two Halves
If you don’t recognize the Green team on the field during the second half after watching the first half, don’t be alarmed. Dartmouth has fared much better after halftime this year. In the first two quarters, opponents have scored more points (75-54) and led at the intermission in three of the first five games. But in the second half, the Big Green have dominated the scoreboard, outscoring their opposition by a 77-18 margin (not including overtime) while surrendering just a single touchdown.
Hunni of a Catch
After falling behind Yale on Oct. 7, 21-0, Dartmouth wanted to get off to a quick start at Sacred Heart the following week. Mission accomplished as Jack Heneghan hit Drew Hunnicutt in stride on the game’s first play from scrimmage for a 78-yard touchdown bomb, the ninth-longest pass play in Big Green history. It was the fastest Dartmouth score into a game (16 seconds) since Miles Gay ’13 returned the 2012 season-opening kickoff against Butler 85 yards for a touchdown (14 seconds). And Hunnicutt finished the game with a career-high 126 receiving yards (second career 100-yard game) on just three catches.
Heneghan and Again
That 78-yard touchdown toss was the first of four scoring strikes on the day for senior QB Jack Heneghan, a new career high. He also teamed up with Ryder Stone on an 8-yard score later in the first quarter, and Emory Thompson twice after the Big Green had fallen behind by 12. And those two TD catches for Thompson matched his career total entering the game. The last QB to throw four TDs in a game was Dalyn Williams against Yale in 2015. Heneghan did throw another pass for a score in the game, but it was a two-point conversion. The school record for touchdown throws in a game is six set by Swede Oberlander against Cornell … in 1925.
Thompson Twin Touchdowns
When senior WR Emory Thompson caught two TD passes at Sacred Heart, he not only made the rally from a 12-point, second-half deficit for the 29-26 victory possible, he doubled his career touchdown total. Both of his other scores came in victories as well, and both were against nationally ranked teams — against No. 25 Holy Cross back on Sept. 23 and versus No. 22 New Hampshire last season.
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 …
Opponents Saying “Oh Crud(den)”
Nickelback Kyran McKinney-Crudden came up big on defense in the 29-26 victory at Sacred Heart on Oct. 14. The senior not only led Dartmouth with a career-high 13 tackles, he also picked off a Pioneer pass at the 1-yard line with 3:12 to play to preserve the three-point lead. It was his first career interception.
Punt Return Prowess
Senior Danny McManus ranks fifth nationally in punt return average at 15 yards per attempt. When he went down with an injury at Sacred Heart, the Big Green didn’t miss a beat with Dylan Mellor as their return man. On his first career return, the junior nearly reached the end zone, taking the kick 57 yards before being pushed out at the 4-yard line. That set up the first of two second-half touchdowns to allow Dartmouth to rally for its 29-26 triumph.
Heneghan Tops 4,000 Total Yards
With his 32-yard completion to Drew Estrada during the game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown drive at Sacred Heart, senior QB Jack Heneghan became the eighth Big Green player to reach 4,000 total yards in a career. He finished the day with 4,059, and with 216 against the Lions would jump up to fifth all-time at Dartmouth.