By Tris Wykes
Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021
HANOVER – You can’t win an Ivy League football title in October. There’s no rule, however, against celebrating an Ancient Eight overtime victory with championship fervor.
That’s what Dartmouth College did Saturday, as dusk crept over Memorial Field and Yale’s last-gasp pass attempt hit the artificial turf in front of what remained of a fired-up crowd of 10,079 fans. Big Green players streamed to midfield, jumping, screaming and reveling in their 24-17 triumph.
“It’s ecstatic down there in the locker room right now,” said linebacker Jalen Mackie, whose team improved to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in league play. “This is one of the games we’re going to tell our children about.’
Those future youngsters will hear how Dartmouth fell behind, 17-14 with 2 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, only to force overtime on Connor Davis’ 32-yard field goal with 13 seconds to play in regulation time.
Big Green head coach Buddy Teevens said he considered going for it on fourth-and-one from the Yale 15-yard line, but rejected that option after conferring with associate head coach Sammy McCorkle.
Yale (2-2, 1-1) won the overtime coin toss and forced Dartmouth to go on offense first, the ball placed at the 25-yard line per NCAA rules. The Big Green gained a first down thanks to a 4-yard Zack Bair run and a 7-yard pass completion from Derek Kyler to Bair.
Enter “backup” quarterback Nick Howard, a run-first option and a junior who powered for back-to-back 7-yard gains, the second of them for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
Following Davis’ extra point, Yale gained 7 yards through the air, threw an incompletion and gained 2 yards on a Zane Dudek run. Facing fourth-and-one from the 16-yard line, Bulldogs quarterback Griffin O’Connor targeted Matt Rouse. However he was hurried by Mackie, and the pass fell incomplete, sparking Big Green jubilation.
“It was just persistence,” Teevens said of what made the difference. “It was a frustrating game in many regards… but we stood up at the tail end of the game. It was electric on the sideline.”
Yale held a 312-274 advantage in yards gained and had possession for 35 minutes. The Bulldogs, who shared the 2019 Ivy title with Dartmouth, held it to 3-of-12 success on third down and consistently pressured Kyler. The visitors from New Haven, however, got back on their buses having lost eight of the rivals’ last nine meetings.
“Give Dartmouth credit,” said Yale coach Tony Reno. “They were able to throw the final punch.”
Much discussed was a targeting penalty called on Yale defensive back Wande Owens with 1:27 remaining in the fourth quarter and Dartmouth facing fourth-and-one at its 26-yard line. Kyler threw to Isaac Boston, but the pass was broken up by Miles Oldacre before Owens whacked the defenseless receiver, drew a flag and by rule, was ejected.
Reno said he disagreed with the call but respects the burden of judgement placed on the officials.
“From where I sat and watched it live, it was a bang-bang play,” he said. “But the referees have the benefit of going to the replay booth.”
Another notable moment occurred when Yale’s Jack Bosman skunked a 41-yard field goal attempt with 51 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Reno said the snap and hold were good but that the sophomore simply mishit the ball.
Kyler completed 19 of 29 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. Bair rushed 16 times for 62 yards and Howard 11 times for 41 yards and two touchdowns. Paxton Scott caught nine passes for 47 yards and Boston hauled in four throws for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Yale enjoyed 194 yards passing and a touchdown from O’Connor, who connected on 28 of 42 attempts. Nolan Grooms completed both his passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. Dudek, a senior and onetime Freshman All-American, carried 15 times for 41 yards and Melvin Rouse II caught 11 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.
Bosman punted five times for a 42.8-yard average while Dartmouth counterpart Cameron Baller booted seven times for a 34.7 mark. Dartmouth defensive backs Isaiah Johnson and John Pupel tied for their team’s lead with eight tackles each. The hosts recorded no sacks.
“We put ourselves in bad situations with field position because of a couple miscues in our punting game,” said Teevens, whose team was not penalized, while watching Yale rack up seven fouls for a combined 61 yards. “But our guys kept believing and kept playing and the offense fed off the defense.”
Yale took a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 38-yard Bosman field goal but Dartmouth answered when Boston caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Kyler with two minutes remaining in the period.
Howard ran for a 1-yard touchdown early in the second quarter and Davis’ second extra point made the score 14-3. Rouse hauled in a 32-yard touchdown of his own from Grooms two minutes later and Bosman’s kick pulled the Bulldogs within 14-10.
The visitors took a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter when Mason Tipton caught a 5-yard O’Connor toss and Bosman converted the extra point. Cue the Big Green’s dramatic drive, during which Kyler was 5 of 9 passing and ran for 3 yards on the play before Davis’ tying field goal.
“Derek is unflappable and (from) the look in his eye, you knew he was going to make something happen,” Teevens said of his fifth-year signal caller. “We went out and executed a basically flawless drive when we had to do it.”
Kyler, who has NFL aspirations, was asked if he was nervous on that march.
“Absolutely not,” he replied. “I feel that’s what I live for. To play this game never shying away from the moment.”
What about you, Mr. Davis? Yale called time out to try and rattle your cage.
“The key is to try and not let the kick be any different than any other and trust in the guys around you,” said the senior and son of former University of Florida kicker Judd Davis, winner of the 1993 Lou Groza Award as the nation’s best Division I kicker.
“I don’t really believe in that icing the kicker thing. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s good to have time to calm yourself down.”
Dartmouth, like many schools nationwide, has suffered a sizable drop-off in student spectators and overall sports attendance during recent decades. However, the Big Green enjoyed a raucous crowd that included what was announced as the largest number of students at a football game since 2013.
The atmosphere no doubt made a positive impression on the more than 100 high school recruits from 34 states brought in Saturday by Dartmouth. The coach said that after losing the overtime coin toss, he chose to play at the field’s north end, closer to the student section.
Dartmouth visits the University of New Hampshire (3-2) next week for its final nonconference game. The Wildcats, who had this weekend off, aren’t what they used to be, but neither is the Big Green, which was pounded by its in-state rival for many years. Kyler said Saturday’s experience is a nice card to be tucked up his squad’s sleeve.
“I think it’s good we got a game like this to see what our team’s really made of,” he said. “So many of the young guys hadn’t had a close game and they needed to see it’s not going to be a cakewalk all year.”
Notes: Mackie sat out the first half after receiving a targeting penalty last week at Pennsylvania. Fifth-year seniors Thomas Hennessy and Joe Heffernan filled in until intermission… Dartmouth right tackle Griff Lehmann showed athleticism and awareness when he raced back to fall on Bair’s third fumble of the season… Johnson was involved in a tackle so violent that he swayed, staggered and nearly fell after rising. Amazingly, the cornerback later returned to action… Unsung standout alert: freshman offensive lineman Konstantin Spork, who attended a Virginia military academy last school year and who’s been slowed by an injured hand. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound tackle competes with a mean streak, aspires to become an environmental engineer and was part of his country’s 2019 U19 national champions, the Cologne Crocodiles… Among numerous former Dartmouth players back for homecoming was onetime quarterback Jared Gerbino, who graduated in 2020 and said he’s training in Florida for a free-agent shot at the NFL… Howard, a Green Bay, Wisc., native who committed to the University of South Dakota and then Cornell before finally settling on Dartmouth, was also offered a walk-on linebacker slot at the University of Iowa… Kyler went over 3,000 career passing yards and is the 10th Big Green player to reach that milestone. The Illinois native entered the game ranked second among NCAA Football Championship Subdivision quarterbacks in completion percentage and third in passing efficiency… Davis’ final extra point was his 52nd consecutive such kick, setting a program record. The previous record holder was 1978 graduate Nick Lowery, who played 18 NFL seasons and still ranks among the league’s top 20 career scorers… Dartmouth’s last overtime contest came four years ago against visiting Holy Cross during a 27-26 defeat of the Crusaders.
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