Dartmouth Ends the Tiger Streak at 17
BY JAY GREENBERG
NEW YORK — It would be easy enough to blame the pick six that got Princeton off to the worst possible start, the fumble at the Dartmouth 6 that ruined the Tigers chance to instantly respond, or a holding penalty that turned a 1st and 10 at the 13 into a field goal just when this seemed about to become a one-score game in the 3rd quarter.
But the reality of the end of Princeton’s 17-game winning streak Saturday at Yankee Stadium is that the Tigers had capitalized for a touchdown on Dartmouth’s one big mistake of the game – a botched handoff between Jared Gerbino and Drew Estrada – turning a 17-point deficit into 10 just before the half – and then could not follow up.
Instead Dartmouth took the second half kickoff and drove 50 yards in twelve plays to a field goal in six clock draining minutes. The better team on both sides of the ball was on its way to a 27-10 victory that put the 8-0 Big Green in the driver’s seat for a clear Ivy title with light traffic – Cornell and Brown teams with losing records ahead.
On that second-half opening drive, the Tiger defense did get itself off the field eventually, almost without surrendering another point until Connor Davis’s 42 yard field goal barely dropped over the crossbar. “I thought it was short,” said Bob Surace. “Our defensive coaches were celebrating in my headset.”
“Game of inches. But they won the inches and probably beyond that.”
Nine more minutes of possession time for Dartmouth in a possession-type game, suggests indeed, it was well beyond that, as did the fact that Dartmouth didn’t punt until halfway through the fourth quarter. Princeton had 64 yards rushing and gave up 252. Only that field goal seemed lucky for Dartmouth as it was building a 20-7 lead.
The Princeton turnovers were made, not really gifted, and a Big Green team with 17 senior starters, fueled with 365-day memories of Princeton’s equally dominant 14-9 victory a year ago, indeed came up bigger at both lines of scrimmage and the skill positions, too.
“You have to be so precise against them,” said Surace. “Credit to them that they force you to do that.”
Jared Gerbino, held to 37 yards a year ago, had 99 this time, including a 24-yard run on a late 3rd quarter sweep that put away the game.
Had motivation turned the tide? “A bitter feeling stayed in our mouths,” said Gerbino. “I felt like our guys wanted it more.”
Arguable. The Tigers played hard. Dartmouth, more experienced at the skill positions, too, was better positioned this time to make more plays.
Only 14 points won last year’s game, so it wasn’t like John Lovett ’19, Jesper Horsted ’19, and Stephen Carlson ’19 ran wild. Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens admitted the obvious: A less tall and versatile Princeton offense was easier to plan for this time around.
“They lost great weapons,” said Teevens. “They had two guys who could jump up higher than anyone.”
“Their quarterback now can sling it all over the place. He’s a pro prospect. They still have good speed, good people. We told our defensive backs this is the biggest challenge you are going to have, they can drop a dime at any time.”
“The big thing with Lovett last year is that he was a runner; that’s a different preparation point. We have great respect for their running backs, but a quarterback who can run like that it is so tough the defend, just like defending Gerbino.
So the biggest thing, I thought, was we unsettled [Davidson] a little. He had to move his feet and that’s tough when we were forcing one side of the field. I thought he did a good job escaping (just three sacks) but our defensive front caused problems.”
From the start.
“There’s not a lot of things on the field you can get to when they are only bringing four and you are feeling the heat like that,” said Davidson.
The Tigers defense stiffened to force a Davis miss on Dartmouth’s first drive, but two plays later, Niko Lalos rose to pick six a Davidson attempt at a quick out to Carson Bobo. “That’s not on the quarterback,” interjected Surace when Davidson was asked about the interception. “The offensive linemen has to cut that guy.”
So Dartmouth had an easy 7-0 lead. But a 3rd and 8 draw to Collin Eaddy for a first down, the most impressive Princeton run of the day, sustained an answering Princeton drive, and for a promising moment, the Tigers had a first down at the Dartmouth 6 on a Bobo catch. But on review the ball clearly was coming out before the tight end was all the way to the ground and Ryan Roegge recovered for the Big Green.
The second interceptions thrown by Davidson was a terrific play by Bushnell Cup winner Isiah Swann, who stepped in front of Dylan Classi on a quick out, tipped and juggled the ball before pulling it in to set up Dartmouth at the Princeton 31. From the 15, Gerbino converted a 4th and 1, and a Drew Estrada took it to the 1. From there, Gerbino went in untouched.
Two sacks of Davidson and a punt gave Dartmouth another short field, this one from the 50 and Davis hit 33 yard field goal. When Andrei Iosivas dropped a 4th and 2 try at midfield, Dartmouth was in position to got into the half with a three touchdown plus lead. However, the bad exchange between Gerbino and Estrada put the ball on the ground where Ike Hall pounced on it at the 39.
For the only time all day, the Tiger offense looked like itself. Davidson converted Princeton’s only true big play of the game, a 30 yarder to Jacob Birmelin, and Adomitis got his torso into the end zone and caught the quarterback’s TD throw before being pushed back.
So it was 17-7 at the half when it could have been worse. Soon it became so regardless: Another exacting Dartmouth drive that led to a field goal barely good, but good nevertheless.
“We didn’t panic off a little slip up in the backfield,” said Gerbino. “A lot of guys didn’t think that actually put them back in the game.”
“We thought we were going to come out and score and put the game away again.”
The Tigers fought back with a painstaking drive of their own that appeared ready to cut the lead to six, but an Alex Deters hold stalled Princeton’s third and last opportunity of the game into a Tavish Rice 28 yard field goal. Gerbino turned the end for his 27 yard touchdown that completed a 75 yard drive before two subsequent Princeton possessions ended with 4th down stops. So did a 17 game streak that was truly inspiring while it lasted.
“It’s tough,” said Surace. “Our guys had a great attitude all day. They stuck together, played hard and I told them I was proud of them.”
“But we had a really nice streak and it hits you.” “It’s tough we have freshmen and sophomore who have never lost a game here. But the better team today won. All the credit goes to them.”