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The forecast predicted snow, but on Saturday afternoon the mercury barely crept over 32 degrees. Instead, Dartmouth and Harvard dueled under a frigid, drizzly New Hampshire sky. On its home turf, the Big Green prevailed in the soggy contest, 24-17.
In front of a clamoring homecoming crowd, Dartmouth (7-0, 4-0 Ivy) shattered a 14-year losing streak against the Crimson (3-4, 1-3). The last time the Big Green bested Harvard in Hanover, N.H., was 25 years ago, when the home team won by five.
“It’s been something that I think has kind of hung over this program’s head for a while, and I think it’s tough to put in words what we’re feeling right now since we just won the game,” Dartmouth linebacker Jack Traynor said. “We’re going to do our thing. We’re going to play Dartmouth football, and hopefully this win allows us to shift [towards] that perspective.”
But the Big Green entered the match with a streak of its own — nine games. That number, now 10, represents consecutive games the team has won, and it is only the eighth time in program history Dartmouth has notched a double-digit win streak.
The Big Green’s most recent loss came almost exactly one year ago today, on Oct. 28 and at the hands of the Crimson. The last three contests between the two squads have been nail biters. This one bucked the trend, as Dartmouth — which has the best overall defense in the FCS — jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never relented.
The wet conditions affected game play from even before to the first snap. On the opening kick, the Big Green’s Connor Davis booted the ball to the Harvard seven, before it bounced end-over-end off the field, racking up a 10-yard penalty for the home team.
Seven minutes in, Crimson senior quarterback Tom Stewart rocketed a pass to senior Henry Taylor who cupped the pass before it hit the ground. The referees reviewed the play for approximately 10 minutes. While the referees huddled near the 20 yard line, the players on both teams did jumping jacks on the field to stay warm.
Dartmouth’s first snap of the contest would have been a touchdown absent the conditions. Despite leading the FCS in completion percentage and pass efficiency — going a perfect nine-for-nine last week — Big Green sophomore quarterback Derek Kyler threw short to his wide-open receiver, J.J. Jefferies.
It didn’t matter, since on the very next play Dartmouth went to ground and then to the end zone with Rashaad Cooper’s 82-yard long rush — the eighth longest in program history.
Aside from the passing deficiencies, Harvard struggled to hold onto the ball. Through the first 30 minutes of the contest, the Crimson put the ball on the turf five times, losing it on four separate occasions. The Big Green didn’t fumble the ball once.
“It’s definitely a little slippery, but we’re just kind of conscious of that while we’re carrying the ball, especially seeing it happen on the other side,” Cooper said. “We knew that we had to be extra protective of the ball. I think we got it done.”
Freshman wideout Kym Wimberly set up to return the final kick of the half. As the first year sprinted up the visiting sideline, a defender forced him in and another hit the ball as he wrapped up. The ball bounced off the feet of several players before Dartmouth recovered.
The first Harvard fumble doubly counted as the Big Green’s second score. As Crimson senior running back Charlie Booker sprinted up field, Dartmouth’s Niko Lalos punched the ball out. DeWayne Terry scooped the wayward ball and sprinted 62 yards for the score.
As Harvard drove in the opening drive of the second stanza, Stewart completed his pass to running back B.J. Watson, who was subsequently stripped at the home eight-yard line. The Big Green didn’t reverse the field for six on this drive, rather going a quick three-and-out before punting the ball back to the Crimson.
Sophomore running back Aaron Shampklin was stripped on the next drive. As the sophomore pushed for a few extra yards in the pile, Dartmouth’s Jack Traynor ran up behind Shampklin and pulled the ball out.
“One thing we always know, when you go into a game like this, the turnover ratio, the ball security is going to be a critical aspect of any big game,” Murphy said. “It’s certainly going to be a critical aspect of every game you play in less than perfect weather, so certainly that had an impact on us.”
Harvard nearly pulled off a miracle comeback down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Stewart entered the half staring down a 21-point deficit, but as feisty as ever. The defense pushed the offense off the field in six plays. Then Stewart took the reins, completing passes to five different route runners before dishing the ball to Shampklin to barrel his way to score from seven yards out.
Despite Shampklin’s rushing touchdown, after 60 minutes, Stewart led the team in rushing yards with 76, a career high. The senior has been seemingly more willing to tuck the ball and sprint up the field than in previous contests, securing long third downs on multiple occasions.
As the Big Green pushed the contest into a three possession game in the late third quarter, Stewart wasn’t ready to hand over the loss just yet. As the Crimson took over in the fourth, when the senior didn’t complete the requisite passes for the first down, he would sprint forward himself. On a long third-and-10, Stewart got pushed from the box by Lalos and sprinted 12 yards to push the chains. Two plays later, Stewart dodged two tackles before maneuvering 22 yards to the endzone.
“Things weren’t there, obviously I was trying to make some plays with my feet,” Stewart said. “[Dartmouth] did a great job up front and are very physical. [They] collapsed the pocket a few times and I just tried to make something out of nothing a few times.”
Harvard has led halftime comebacks in past renditions of this game before. Last season, the Crimson trailed by eight at the half. In 2015, Harvard trailed by 10. In both contests, the Crimson pulled out the victory by three points and one point, respectively.
Today, the second half effort wasn’t enough.
The Big Green dominated the ground game, accumulating 320 rushing yards throughout the contest. Junior “quarterback” Jared Gerbino led the effort, notching a season high 183 rushing yards for Dartmouth and adding a touchdown to match. Cooper added 108 yards to that tally, a career high.
In addition to Gerbino running from under center, Cooper tallied 117 on 11 attempts in the backfield — a career high for the tailback.
With five fumbles on carries, Harvard preferred to air the ball out. Despite the inclement conditions, Stewart tossed the ball 42 times, completing 24 attempts for 270 yards — two yards short of a season high.
“[That] wasn’t necessarily the plan coming in, but this was definitely the best run defense we’ll face all year,” Murphy said. “Their front seven, starting with their front four, is definitely very challenging to run the football against.”
The Big Green couldn’t replicate the feat, completing only four of 11 passes between the two quarterbacks. Without a single touchdown pass, today’s contest ended the school record 17-consecutive games that Dartmouth had tallied six points on a throw.
“I think the weather helped a lot with that, and game plan,” captain safety Zach Miller said. “ [We] got him to play a little bit left-handed. [They] had to go with the wildcat quarterback a little bit, and get out of their comfort zone.”
No. 20/ARV Dartmouth is still undefeated, and is one of only four FCS squads to boast a perfect record. The Big Green was the Crimson’s third ranked opponent this season, the result of schedule that included also No. 18/23 Princeton and No. 20/22 Rhode Island. Of Harvard’s four losses this season, three have come to each of the ranked opponents. Never before has the Crimson played three ranked teams in one season.
The last time a team with two losses won the Ivy League was 1982. With this loss to Dartmouth, Harvard now has three Ancient Eight losses.
“We feel like a couple plays here and there, we could be undefeated right now,” Stewart said. “We’ve been in every game we’ve played in, and we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our fans, we owe it to every single guy in our locker room to take these last three games as seriously as ever because we’re not just playing for our record, we’re playing for the guys in the locker room. That’s what it really comes down to.”
—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @THC_CadePalmer.
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