By Tris Wykes

Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021

ALLSTON, Mass. – Mist and low-hanging clouds hid Boston’s skyline from spectators inside Harvard Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The gray gloom and accompanying rain, however, couldn’t obscure another classic Ivy League football contest inside the nation’s oldest concrete structure dedicated to intercollegiate athletics. 

Two years after Derek Kyler’s Hail Mary touchdown pass on the game’s last snap lifted Dartmouth to victory inside the aging horseshoe, it was the No. 21 Crimson that attempted its own desperation play as time expired. 

Teammates congratulate Dartmouth’s Connor Davis (6). (Gil Talbot photo, courtesy of Dartmouth sports information)

Harvard fans prayed that just and gracious football gods would guide Jonah Lipel’s 53-yard attempt through the uprights. His boot into the wind, however, was wide left, turning the Big Green’s 20-17 lead into the final score.

“We have an incredible culture and that translates to the field,” said Dartmouth kicker Connor Davis, whose 25-yard field goal with 49 seconds remaining resulted in the winning points. “We were walking (off after the game) and I told someone ‘Man, I don’t mind this place. It’s a great place to play’.”

That’s quite a statement given that Dartmouth had lost seven consecutive games and nine out of 10 at Harvard before its 2019 triumph on Soldiers Field Road. The latest victory can be attributed mostly to the visitors’ stout run defense, which allowed the Crimson only 14 yards rushing through three quarters and 68 overall. 

“They’re going to stop the run first and they’re always big, strong and physical,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, whose team suffered a controversial, five-overtime setback at No. 15 Princeton last week. “Dartmouth may not be quite as deep… but their (starters) are as good as on any team in the league.”

Murphy added that the Big Green doesn’t have to dedicate overwhelming numbers to gum up opponents’ rushing attack because its linemen and middle linebackers are able to handle that job. 

With the rush regularly suppressed and its safeties able to stay back and help the cornerbacks, Dartmouth isn’t particularly vulnerable to play-action run fakes that turn into pass attempts.

It was a difficult offensive day for Harvard, which fell to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in league play and is almost certainly out of the championship running. Only twice since the Ivies were formed in 1954 have two-loss teams claimed a title share. Dartmouth (6-1, 3-1) faces another big test Friday when Princeton (7-0, 4-0) visits Memorial Field for a nationally-televised game on ESPNU.

“Last week will always sting because we won that game, but you don’t get to take the trophy home,” said Murphy, who was hardly consoled by the league’s following admission of its referees’ “procedural error”. “But that’s ancient history, although very painful history. 

“Our kids were completely focused on the task at hand today and there’s no excuses.”

Harvard opened the scoring in the rivals’ 124th meeting when quarterback Jake Smith, who took over for injured starter Charlie Dean earlier this season, threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Shampklin. The Crimson covered 81 yards during its 11-play, 4 minute and 45 second drive, aided by a pass interference call against Landon McDermott and scoring eight minutes into the second quarter.

Painter Richards-Baker struts after one of his two pass receptions. (Gil Talbot photo, courtesy of Dartmouth sports information)

Dartmouth struck twice within three minutes to lead, 10-7, at half’s end. The Big Green’s first points came when Kyler rolled right but threw back left to unguarded tight end Robbie Mangas for a 5-yard touchdown. Davis booted an extra point to cap the eight-play, 75-yard drive.

Harvard punted two minutes before intermission and the Floridian kicked a 34-yard field goal as the second quarter expired. Zack Bair ran twice for a combined 24 yards and Kyler completed a pass to Paxton Scott to set up that tally.

Cameron Baller’s second-half kickoff into a stiff wind resulted in an 89-yard touchdown return by DeMarkes Stradford. Lipel’s extra point put the hosts up, 14-10, and the third quarter remained scoreless until 24 seconds remained. 

Dartmouth reinserted junior quarterback Nick Howard at that point. The Wisconsin native and Kyler’s nominal backup has been used mostly for running, but uncorked a 31-yard touchdown pass between the hashmarks and to lunging freshman Painter Richards-Baker to end a seven-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 3:18. 

Now up, 17-14, the Big Green seemed to seize momentum even more fully when safety Quinten Arello intercepted a Smith pass. Dartmouth punted and Harvard drove 54 yards in nine plays, but Lipel missed a 21-yard field goal attempt into the wind with 8:42 on the scoreboard.

One snap prior, Dartmouth’s John Pupel blitzed and dropped ball carrier Aidan Borguet from behind on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Lipel did manage a 31-yard field goal on his next attempt, however, one occurring four minutes later and which pulled his team into a 17-17 tie with 4:31 to play.

Needing points but not wanting to leave Harvard with too much time, Dartmouth embarked on a deliberate, nine-play, 67-yard march that featured three Kyler completions, a Crimson face-masking foul and three Howard runs to set up Davis’ successful kick. Josh Greene’s snap to holder Dylan Cadwalleder was slightly off-target, but the third-string quarterback got the ball down in time.

“I think we did a good job managing the clock,” said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, who decided not to go for another first down on fourth-and-one from Harvard’s 8-yard line. “We’d been so unsuccessful in short-yardage situations (1 of 14 on third downs)… and if they sack (the quarterback), we’re done.”

Said Davis: “I knew DK would get us down there and… I tried to treat (the kick) like any other. A wet ball’s heavier, but I try to refocus it as it’s not going to move as much in the air.”

Harvard returned the game’s final kickoff to its 27-yard line and began an eight-play, 37-drive with 44 seconds remaining and third-string quarterback Luke Emge in the game, as he’d been since Arello’s interception. 

Derek Kyler threw for 230 yards and a touchdown. (Gil Talbot photo, courtesy of Dartmouth sports information)

The chemistry major hadn’t attempted a pass this season before Saturday but completed four during the Crimson’s last possession, which was helped by a roughing-the-passer call on Shane Cokes but ended with Lipel’s second miss.

Said Davis: “He got his toe up a tiny bit. Into the wind is a tough field goal and I’m glad our defense held him to that spot.”

A few feet’s difference and it would have been Harvard celebrating a last-second victory. Instead, Murphy and linebacker Jordan Hill looked utterly drained during the postgame press conference. 

“We dropped the ball today,” said a somber Hill. Kyler “definitely made those big plays when their team needed it. He had a hell of a game.”

Kyler completed 20 of 27 pass attempts for 230 yards and a touchdown. Howard connected on 2 of 4 tosses for 46 yards and a touchdown and ran nine times for 31 yards. Noah Roper had nine carries for 55 yards and Bair 13 for 30 yards. 

Dartmouth, which managed 117 yards on the ground, was led in receiving by Scott, who continued a standout, debut season with seven catches for 67 yards. Dale Chesson, in his first 2021 action back from injury, hauled in five passes for 72 yards and his team amassed 276 yards through the air during its third consecutive defeat of Harvard.

Freshman punter Davis Golick booted eight times for an average of 33.1 yards in his first start. Kickoff man Baller did so four times but had only one touchback. The Big Green committed nine penalties for 92 yards, its most in either statistic in four years, while Harvard was whistled three times for 35 yards.

Notes: Dartmouth has three captains but one of them, senior linebacker Tanner Cross, hasn’t participated in the pregame coin flip since the season’s third game. Rick Bender, the Big Green’s sports information director, said he was told that Cross “prefers to remain in the locker room to maintain his focus.” Cross, who entered Saturday somewhat battered, suffered what appeared to be an upper-body injury during Saturday’s first half and did not return… Dartmouth committed its third clipping foul of the season. The general definition of that penalty is throwing one’s body into the back of an opponent below the waist, provided he is not the ball carrier… The Big Green had not allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in 10 years… Davis moved into 10th on Dartmouth’s career scoring list with 148 points… Harvard’s 223 yards of offense were the fewest for the Crimson against the Big Green since 1995, when it had 196… Dartmouth’s men’s cross country team finished fifth at the Ivy League championship Saturday and the women’s squad was sixth… Big Green men’s hockey lost its regular-season opener to visiting Harvard, 9-4, on Friday. The Crimson also pinned a 4-0 defeat on the Big Green during an exhibition game earlier this month.

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