By Tris Wykes
Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021
HANOVER – The Dartmouth College football team returned from Indiana a bit sheepish from last week’s error-filled opener at Valparaiso. The Big Green more than made up for that narrow victory on Saturday, however, with a 41-3 pummeling of Sacred Heart. It was the program’s first home game in nearly two years after sitting idle last autumn because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dartmouth pounded out 400 yards of offense and averaged 8.9 yards per carry, its best such effort in at least 50 years. Running back Zach Bair carried 11 times for 103 yards and a touchdown and situational quarterback Nick Howard carried nine times for 154 yards and two scores.
Derek Kyler, the hosts’ starting signal-caller, completed all 10 of his pass attempts for 106 yards and two touchdowns and the defense allowed fewer than 200 yards until the Pioneers’ last possession produced an 83-yard drive against Dartmouth’s reserves.
“We kind of grew up today, doing some stuff we didn’t show last week,” said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, whose team now prepares for its Ivy League opener at Pennsylvania on Friday. “This looked and felt a lot better and you could sense a greater level of confidence from the guys.”
Sacred Heart (2-2), the preseason pick to win the Northeast Conference, converted only 7 of 17 third-down chances and was scoreless in two trips to the red zone.
“We got manhandled today,” said Sacred Heart coach Mark Nofri, whose team played without injured star running back Julius Chestnut. “Special teams were horrendous, we couldn’t stop the run and we couldn’t keep our quarterback off the ground.”
Dartmouth (2-0) beat its 18th consecutive nonconference foe. That mark, dating back to the 2014 season, is owed in part to selective scheduling. Still, there was no doubt who the better team was before an announced crowd of 5,121 at Memorial Field.
“I think it was a complete 180 in all facets of the game,” said linebacker Marques White, who had two of Dartmouth’s seven sacks. “We just knew we had to pick up the intensity and energy.
Dartmouth covered 75 yards in nine plays on its first drive, Kyler throwing to sophomore standout Paxton Scott for a 7-yard touchdown. Cameron Baller, also the starting punter and kickoff man, filled in for injured Connor Davis on the extra-point attempt, but his miss snapped a streak of 51 successful conversion boots.
Sacred Heart drove inside the Big Green’s 10-yard line after the ensuing kickoff but linebacker Tanner Cross caused scrambling quarterback Marquez McCray to fumble and safety Niko Mermigas recovered.
Dartmouth went up, 13-0, during the second quarter after Bair broke off a 47-yard touchdown run and Baller added the first of his three extra points. The Pioneers later committed pass interference and a personal foul (head-butting) on the same play and those miscues prefaced Kyler throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jonny Barrett for a 20-0 lead.
Sacred Heart earned its only points on a 39-yard Sam Renzi field goal 11 seconds before halftime.
“Coming out for the second half, coach told our guys that we have to step on their throats and finish it,” White said. “They looked tired and we had to take advantage of it.”
Sacred Heart turned the ball over on downs to start the third quarter and two plays later, Howard ran 53 yards for a touchdown, adding a 39-yard scoring scamper early in the fourth quarter.
The Green Bay, Wisc., native’s rushing success called to mind that of 2020 Dartmouth graduate Jared Gerbino, whose star turns when running from the quarterback position helped the Big Green share the 2019 Ivy League title.
Teevens, noting that Howard was recruited as a linebacker by the University of Wisconsin, said No. 17 threw more than Gerbino as a high school quarterback and is farther along in that department. Although Dartmouth hasn’t called on Howard to use his arm much thus far, that should eventually give opponents pause.
Gerbino “is a great athlete and he helped me to not overthink, not to get freaked out when there’s one bad play,” Howard said. “I dropped a snap early but I kept playing hard.”
Jamal Cooney returned a punt 64 yards to set up a 13-yard touchdown run by third-string quarterback Dylan Cadwallader. The run-back made up for an earlier, 62-yard scoring return by Cooney that was negated by a blocking penalty. Cooney was also flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after removing his helmet on the field to celebrate.
Cross had a career-high 10 tackles and fellow linebacker Jalen Mackie added nine. Bobby Jefferson, only recently returned from a months-long absence, had two sacks for a team that’s won 22 of its last 24 games.
“I love this place and it felt incredible today,” Howard said. “We have a very unique environment where it’s isolated but awesome. There was great fan turnout from the students, administrators and parents.”
A victory at Penn this week would likely swell the Oct. 9 crowd against visiting Yale. That game is part of Dartmouth’s homecoming weekend. The Quakers lost to Lafayette on Saturday while Yale beat Cornell.
Notes: Dartmouth receiver Jarome Sutherland had to be helped off the field with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, although Teevens didn’t provide a specific diagnosis… The Big Green played without injured offensive linemen Calvin Atkeson and Donald Carty. Nicholas Schwitzgebel got plenty of snaps as a result… The last time Dartmouth runners each produced more than 100 yards was Oct. 27, 2018, when Gerbino had 183 and Rashaad Coooper 117 during a victory over Harvard… Kyler completed all his passes for the second time in his career. The first was on Oct. 20, 2018, when he hit on all nine at Columbia… Interim athletic director Peter Roby got into the excitement, showing some graceful dance moves on the sidelines as Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” blared over the public-address system. The student section ate it up, cheering loudly.
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