HANOVER, N.H.—Against an aggressive and physical Dartmouth defensive line, running back Clifton Dawson failed to break 100 yards rushing for only the second time this season. And that was the least of his worries.
According to Harvard coach Tim Murphy, Dawson strained a muscle in his side early in the fourth quarter and did not return for the remainder of the game. To that point he had mustered just 69 yards on 21 carries, scoring no touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Big Green tailback Chad Gaudet did his best Dawson impression, finishing with 102 yards on 16 carries out of the backfield, punctuated by a 60-yard touchdown burst in the third quarter that looked an awful lot like a trademark Dawson breakaway.
The ground game has not been Dartmouth’s forte this season. Before Saturday, the Big Green was averaging just 66.5 yards rushing per contest, instead relying heavily on a passing game that led starting quarterback Charlie Rittgers to the second-best passing total in the Ivies, ahead of even Harvard’s Ryan Fitzpatrick.
But with Rittgers benched in favor of backup Dan Shula, Dartmouth’s offense had a distinctly different look, particularly in the second half.
“We’ve been really struggling running the ball, and it felt good to see us outgain them,” said Big Green coach John Lyons.
KICKIN’ IT OLD SCHOOL
Harvard’s much maligned kicking game underwent yet another shakeup Saturday, one of many it has seen in recent years. But unlike previous lineup shuffles, this one was due to injury and not lack of performance.
Junior punter Mike King, solid throughout the 2004 campaign, suffered a sprained deltoid ligament in his left ankle, forcing Clem McDavid to assume the punting duties.
The sophomore performed well in his first start, booting seven punts for an average of 36.6 yards per kick. Three of those landed inside the 20, including one downed at the Dartmouth 3-yard line.
King remains day-to-day and may return for this Saturday’s matchup against Columbia.
Freshman Matt Schindel, on the other hand, enjoyed mixed results, notching field goals from 38 and 39 yards away—the latter his longest of the season—while missing a crucial 34-yarder wide left. Another of his kicks was blocked as the first half expired.
Harvard’s defense, maligned earlier this season and branded the team’s weaker half, turned in yet another dominant performance on Saturday, holding Dartmouth under 300 yards of total offense and forcing 10 punts.
Normally, the Crimson has reserved its best play for the second half, surrendering just 26 points in the final 30 minutes and just one touchdown in the fourth quarter entering Saturday’s game. But against Dartmouth, Harvard was dominant early, not just shutting the Big Green out in the first half, but not allowing its offense to cross midfield until the third quarter.
That dominance wavered after halftime, though, as Dartmouth adjusted to the Crimson front seven and Harvard’s tacklers poorly executed.
“The reason that they got back into the game in the second half was that we had a lot of fundamental busts,’’ Harvard linebacker Bobby Everett said. ``We were missing tackles. We weren’t doing our assignments.”
But Harvard recovered when it mattered most. Sophomore safety Ryan Tully recorded a game-saving hit with 10 seconds left to keep tailback Chris Little inbounds and the clock moving, precenting the Big Green from attempting a game-winning field goal.
“I grabbed Ryan Tully down in the locker room and I said, ‘That was an unbelievably huge play,’ for the obvious reason that they couldn’t stop the clock,” Murphy said. “He just should’ve stayed on top of him a little longer.”
FOURTH AND THREE
Harvard is now the only undefeated team in Division I-AA. Cal-Poly fell to UC-Davis, 36-33, courtesy of a touchdown strike with 13 seconds remaining...Senior linebacker Sean Tracy played in Saturday’s contest despite a knee injury which forced him from the Crimson’s win over Princeton one week earlier. He recorded four tackles...Penn edged Brown 20-16 to remain undefeated in the Ivy League. Sam Mathews scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 50 seconds left to give the Quakers the lead. Should each win this weekend, Harvard and Penn will duel for the Ancient Eight crown on Nov. 13.
—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.