Getting Overwhelmed on the Line of Scrimmage, Tiger Football Falls 41-10 to Dartmouth in Finale
Coming into its season finale last Saturday against visiting Dartmouth, the Princeton University football team was looking to play the spoiler role.
Entering the final weekend, Dartmouth was in second place in the Ivy League standings behind undefeated Harvard and needed to beat Princeton and have Yale upend the Crimson to get a share of the league title.
Instead, Dartmouth spoiled Princeton’s Senior Day, rolling to a 41-10 win over the Tigers before a crowd of 6,663 at Princeton Stadium.
Dartmouth, though, didn’t get a piece of the title as Harvard pulled out a 31-24 win over Yale to cap a perfect campaign.
In the view of Princeton head coach Bob Surace, Dartmouth did produce a championship-caliber performance.
“The bottom line is that we lost at the line of scrimmage today, that is very disappointing and disheartening,” lamented Surace, whose team finished the year at 5-5 overall and 4-3 Ivy while Dartmouth ended up at 8-2 overall, 6-1 Ivy. “I knew they were really good coming in to it and thought they were the equal of Harvard.”
The loss stung as the Class of 2015 went out on a down note, one year after they had helped Princeton earn a share of the Ivy crown with Harvard.
“It is emotional because of guys like Mike Zeuli, Quinn Epperly, Connor Michelsen, Connor Kelley, Will Powers, you can go on and on,” said Surace, whose Class of 2015 included 27 players and posted wins over every Ivy foe except Dartmouth in their careers.
“They have just given their all to the program, the disappointment mostly is for them. I just didn’t do a good enough job of getting the rest of the guys to be as exact as we needed to be. I thought we played two teams that were super this year in Dartmouth and Harvard and another really, really good team in Yale.”
Princeton faced a super player Saturday in Dartmouth junior quarterback Dalyn Williams, who hit 30-of-35 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers.
“He is such a good athlete; when we first played him a couple of years ago, he had that improvisational skill,” said Surace.
“I told Buddy (Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens) before the game that he has done a really good job with him, learning to pick his moments and spots. It is one of those darned if you do, darned if you don’t things; you want to stop him from running and he has become such an accurate passer, he beats you that way.”
Williams struck early on Saturday, hitting Bo Patterson for a 58-yard touchdown pass on the fourth play from scrimmage as the Big Green jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
The Tigers answered back with an 11-play, 44-yard march that culminated with a Nolan Bieck field goal as they narrowed the gap to 7-3.
“We kicked a field goal and the score was relatively within reach for a long time in the first half,” said Surace. “I didn’t think we were winning the line of scrimmage which was disappointing; that’s a hard thing to flip.”
Dartmouth’s strength in the trenches started to take a toll as it marched 80 yards midway through the second quarter and went ahead 14-3 on a 4-yard TD pass from Williams to Ryan McManus. The Big Green tacked on a field goal with six seconds left in the quarter to take a 17-3 halftime lead.
In the second half, Dartmouth dominated, reeling off 24 unanswered points before the Tigers scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Joe Rhattigan with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter to make it 41-10 and end the scoring for the day.
Sophomore Rhattigan acknowledged that the Tigers were stifled all day by the Big Green.
“The Dartmouth defense played well; you can see it in the stats, you could see it on the field,” said Rhattigan, reflecting on a day that saw Princeton get outgained 518 yards to 228.
“There are things on our side of the ball that we could definitely have improved on. I think they played well. From what I saw, they were very gap conscious. They were filling gaps, they were shedding blocks well. They were just giving us a hard time up front.”
The Tigers hit the field Saturday looking to play well and break a four-game losing streak in the series with Dartmouth.
“Every game is the same, you play the game to win,” said Rhattigan. “Ivy League title or not, you want to win the game so we definitely had a lot to play for. There was 20-something seniors playing their last game. We owed it to them to give it our best.”
Surace, though, conceded that Princeton’s best wasn’t good enough this season.
“Last week, when we were eliminated, I was reminded of a story,” said Surace.
“We had a mediocre year when I was a player here and Pete Carril (Hall of Fame Princeton men’s basketball coach) said to us first place or no place, there is nothing in between and that’s the bottom line. One team celebrates and the other seven of us didn’t get done what we needed to accomplish. We are a 5-5 team and that’s what we are. We are a fourth place team in a really good league and we have to improve on a number of things.”
Rhattigan, for his part, believes the returning players can take some lessons from the departing seniors in the quest to return to the top of the Ivies.
“They teach you the way of Princeton football and how you have to be to win,” said Rhattigan.
“They were part of that championship team last year. They were part of this team this year. You learn from them, they obviously have the experience.”