Breaking the Harvard Hex
One team more than any other over the past two decades has had Dartmouth’s number, and that team is this week’s opponent — Harvard. The Crimson have won 13 straight games against the Big Green, and 18 of the last 19. And while playing at Harvard Stadium should be a daunting task, Dartmouth has the knowledge that its last three victories in the series came on this field, the last one a 30-16 triumph in 2003.
At least the Green won’t have the pressure of keeping an undefeated season alive after coming up six yards short against Columbia last Saturday in a 22-17 defeat. Dartmouth twice advanced the ball to the Lion 6-yard line in the final three minutes, only to be turned away each time without scoring. It may have been a case of playing with fire once too often after winning the previous three contests with fourth-quarter comebacks and the one prior to that in overtime.
The second quarter has been the biggest problem for the Big Green with their opponents scoring 74 points in that 15-minute span compared to 41 in the other three combined. The Dartmouth offense, on the other hand, has been at its best after halftime, putting 92 points on the scoreboard during the third and fourth quarters, compared to just 54 in the first half.
Quarterback Jack Heneghan has been at the forefront of the second-half surges, more than doubling his passing yardage over the final 30 minutes. Against the Lions, he recorded his sixth career 300-yard passing game thanks to nearly 250 yards in the second half, and became the seventh Big Green QB to throw for 4,000 yards in a career. And he has also led the team in rushing each of the last two games.
While WR Drew Hunnicutt sat out last week with an injury, 2016 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Hunter Hagdorn returned to the field and posted exactly 100 yards on his eight grabs. Heneghan spreads the ball around as eight different players have caught at least one scoring strike, led by Hunnicutt and Emory Thompson with three apiece.
The ground game, which put up more than 200 yards in each of the first three games, has not been able to match those numbers of late, but did gain 147 against Columbia. But with three capable backs, wide receiver jet sweeps and a Wildcat QB in Jared Gerbino, no one player is dominating the rushing game. Senior Ryder Stone leads the team with 354 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
The defense has two of the top three tacklers in the Ivy League in linebackers Eric Meile (9.4 per game) and Jack Traynor (8.8) with the former collecting 16 against the Lions. Dartmouth has also forced 11 turnovers this season while coughing the ball up just five times, and has surrendered just 24 points in the second half all season.
The Big Green have been able to turn more than one game on special teams this year, particularly on punt returns as they rank 13th nationally at over 11 yards per return. David Smith has hit 5-of-8 field goals and every PAT, while Davis Brief has had the hang time to allow the coverage team to yield just 12 punt return yards all season.
Scouting the Crimson
It has been 17 years since Harvard lost more than three games in a season, and 12 since it dropped more than two Ivy contests. A Dartmouth win in this game would end both of those streaks as the Crimson come in tied for sixth in the league standings at 1-2 and 3-3 overall.
The more important streak that the Big Green would like to end is the one that Harvard owns against them — 13 straight victories dating back to a 30-16 Dartmouth win in 2003. The Green will need to exploit the Crimson defense that surrendered 573 yards to Princeton last week as the Tigers enjoyed their largest win over Harvard in 50 years, 52-17.
This is still a dangerous team with a burgeoning talent in freshman QB Jake Smith. The rookie connected on 20-of-31 throws against Princeton and has completed nearly 60 percent of his 94 pass attempts, although he does have five interceptions and just two touchdown tosses.
Harvard can pound the ball on the ground with Charlie Booker (6.4 yards per carry, 568 yards, 6 TD) and Aaron Shampkin (4.7 ypc, 274 yards, 3 TD) as a terrific tandem. As a team the Crimson average over 200 yards per game running the football, so Dartmouth will need to continue to plug the holes as it has done most of the season.
Justice Shelton-Mosley is one of the most dynamic players in the Ivy League, though his big plays have come as a punt returner rather than as a wide receiver. The junior has brought back two punts for touchdowns this year — one a 91-yard score — but Harvard is hoping to get the ball more often than just the 3.2 catches per game he has.
The defense is led by linebacker Luke Hutton with 45 tackles, while end D.J. Bailey has four of the team’s 15 sacks. Like Dartmouth, Harvard is very tough against the run but has given up a few yards through the air. Corner Raishaun McGhee is the top cover man, but he is one of five defenders with an interception this year.
Place kicker Jake McIntyre has been perfect inside 40 yards, making all six field goals inside that range and every one of his 21 PATs. Punting is handled by Zach Schmid, averaging 38.3 yards per boot, and Dartmouth will try to keep the ball out of Shelton-Mosley’s hands on punts and kickoffs, though Adam Scott has returned a kick 90 yards.
Harvard is coached by Tim Murphy, now in his 24th year in Cambridge and 31st overall as a collegiate head coach. The boyhood friend of Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens is 166-69 during his Crimson tenure with nine Ivy championships to his credit, and 198-114-1 in a career that included stints at Maine and Cincinnati. Murphy was a four-year starter at Springfield College, earning All-New England honors for small colleges as a linebacker before graduating in 1978. In 2007, he was inducted into his alma mater’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
New England Sports Network
This is the third of four televised games for Dartmouth this season, but the first appearance on NESN since 2010 and seventh ever. The Big Green have lost five of their last six games that have been on TV, and each of their last four on NESN. But since 2013, Dartmouth has had a bit more success on the boob tube, winning 10 of 18 contests. The game will also be streamed live on the Ivy League Network, but the broadcast will be blacked out in the New England area (the NESN broadcast area).
Last Time Against Harvard
Last year’s game would fit right into this season for Dartmouth as Harvard jumped out to a lead in the first half and the Big Green came two points short in its comeback quest in a 23-21 loss in Hanover. It was the one game Jack Heneghan did not start behind center, entering the game on Dartmouth’s final play of the first quarter, yet he still passed for 301 yards, throwing one touchdown and running for another. Hunter Hagdorn had 11 catches for 118 yards and Stephen Johnston caught the other TD from just a yard out. The final score came with 2:32 to play, closing the gap to two, but Harvard picked up a pair of first downs and was able to run out the clock.
Knocking on the Door
Although Dartmouth has lost its last 13 games against Harvard, the Big Green have come up just short in three of the last four years, losing those contests by three points or less. In 2013, the Crimson booted a 23-yard field goal with less than a minute to play for a 24-21 triumph. Two years ago, Harvard scored two touchdowns in the final half of the fourth quarter to ruin Dartmouth’s quest for a perfect season in a 14-13 thriller. And last year the Crimson nipped the Green by two, 23-21.
Heneghan Tops 4,000 Passing Yards
With a 14-yard completion to Emory Thompson with less than five minutes to play against Columbia, senior QB Jack Heneghan became the seventh Big Green player to throw for 4,000 yards in a career. He finished the day with 4,073, and needs just 427 more over the final four games to move into fourth on Dartmouth’s all-time list.
Meile or the Highwee
His name doesn’t quite rhyme with highway, but I'm sticking with it. Linebacker Eric Meile was seemingly in on every play against Columbia, racking up 16 tackles, including one for a loss, and breaking up a pair of passes. The senior now leads the team and ranks second in the Ivy League with 58 tackles, plus is tied for the team lead in interceptions and fumbles recovered, as well as second on the team with six passes defended.
Close games have been a calling card for Dartmouth with 13 of its past 17 games decided by single digits. Last year, the Big Green had six games decided by four points or less, going 3-3 in those contests. This year, each of the last five games has been decided no more than five points, with four ending in Big Green victories by a combined eight points. 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).
Hagdorn Hits 100
Sophomore Hunter Hagdorn has missed two games this fall due to injury, but it didn’t show upon returning against Columbia on Oct. 21 as the wide receiver led Dartmouth with eight catches for exactly 100 yards. It was his first 100-yard game this season and fourth of his career, leaving him 49 yards shy of becoming the 21st Big Green player with 1,000 receiving yards to his name.
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 (91-54) and led at the intermission in four of the first six games. But in the second half, the Big Green have dominated the scoreboard, outscoring their opposition by a 94-24 margin (not including overtime) while surrendering just two touchdowns (and no PATs).
Johnston Doubles His Fun
Prior to the Columbia game on Oct. 21, tight end Stephen Johnston had caught just three passes for 21 yards. Against the Lions, however, he doubled his reception total with three hauls for 72 yards, including a career-long 40-yarder to set up the first Dartmouth touchdown of the game.
300 Passing Yards
Senior Jack Heneghan posted his sixth career 300-yard passing game in the 22-17 loss to Columbia. His six are one more than Jay Fiedler ’94 had, and just one less than Dalyn Williams ’16 who holds the program record with seven. Of those six 300-yard games, four have come at Memorial Field, tying Fiedler for the most in Hanover. No one else has more than two on the home turf.