It had the feeling of a bygone era. Of the days when a couple of sturdy ends (say, Brandon Dyches ’06 and Alex Faherty ’06) were all you needed and the forward pass was a mere accessory. Yale and Dartmouth toiled in the greenish mud through 60 minutes and constant rain, weather the great unifier of this and yesteryear. Visiting parents reminded their kids of the old days, when Hill and Jauron — or perhaps even Kelley and Frank — rumbled through the Ivy League. And, just like those glory days of dive runs and muddied uniforms and gray October skies, the Elis won, 13-0.
In any rain-soaked affair, field position is paramount. Usually the battle is waged by kickers and punters, but on Saturday Dyches proved to be the ultimate weapon. The senior defensive end swayed the advantage in Yale’s (2-2, 2-0 Ivy) favor midway through the first quarter when he blocked a Brian Scullin punt to give the Bulldogs the ball at the Dartmouth 30. Quarterback Jeff Mroz ’06, Yale’s captain, completed a 22-yard pass to tight end Faherty to set up first and goal, but the Elis failed to reach the end zone in their four point-blank tries.
After the relentless Yale defense halted the Big Green (1-3, 0-2) on its next drive to force a short punt, the Elis took possession at the Dartmouth 40 and went right to work. Running back Jordan Spence ’07 carried for seven yards on first down, then Mroz went back to favorite target Faherty for passes of 13 and 20 yards. The second yielded a touchdown, as Faherty cradled a seam pass and bowled through two defensive backs like a hurried waiter through a swinging kitchen door.
Mroz was thrilled to see the return of Faherty, who was playing his first full game after being hampered all season by a groin injury.
“He presents a lot of matchup problems,” Mroz said. “He’s fast, he can adjust to the ball very well when it’s in the air, and he had some great catches today. You can throw some balls to him you can’t throw to anyone else.”
Faherty’s triumph was somewhat muted, however, when Alan Kimball’s ’08 extra point glanced off the right upright, the sophomore’s third miss of the season.
After running back Mike McLeod ’09 fumbled to give Dartmouth possession on the Yale 13 early in the second quarter, Dyches resumed his role as field position X-factor. Eli defensive ends usually spend considerable time in pass coverage, but the run-heavy style dictated by the weather allowed Yale to stack the line. Dyches sacked quarterback Charlie Rittgers on second and third downs — giving him three sacks in a span of six Dartmouth plays — to force a 43-yard field goal attempt, which proved too long for kicker Erik Hinterbichler.
“The way the game was progressing, we knew it was going to be a close game,” Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevans said. “Three points would’ve made a big difference.”
The special teams miscues continued for Dartmouth. After Mroz was intercepted by Joe Gibalski, Hinterbichler failed to capitalize again by missing a 37-yard try. Then, after Yale’s next drive stalled, Steve Jensen muffed the end-over-end Ashley Wright ’07 punt and the ball skipped into the welcoming arms of Matt Polhemus ’08.
The Big Green invited Yale further into its own territory when linebacker Josh Dooley earned a personal foul with a late, helmet-to-helmet hit on McLeod. But Mroz squandered the opportunity with an underthrow for Todd Feiereisen ’06 that was picked off by Dooley.
“After committing that personal foul to keep the drive going, I knew I needed to make a big play to make it up to the team,” Dooley said. “I just took a few steps back and I guess he didn’t see me.”
The interception stopped Yale, but it provided little for Dartmouth. The final 28 seconds of the first half ticked away with the Elis still in front.
“I thought our defense played absolutely phenomenal,” coach Jack Siedlecki said of the unit that yielded just 110 yards (27 after halftime). “We put them in a hole. We had three turnovers in the first half, [but] we were still ahead 6-0.”
Part of the reason Yale only scored once in the first half was that McLeod, the runaway favorite for Ivy League Rookie of the Year, was completely neutralized by a heavy-blitzing Dartmouth defense. With Faherty loosening up the defense, however, McLeod began to find room in the second half. After netting just 12 yards on ten carries in the first two quarters, McLeod exploded for runs of 19 and 30 yards on consecutive plays early in the fourth, putting Yale within striking distance.
Siedlecki knew that McLeod was bound to break a couple runs, even with Dartmouth’s star safety Ian Wilson (13 tackles, one forced fumble) keying on him all game.
“Mike’s one of those guys,” Siedlecki said. “He’s going to make you miss. You’re not going to get Mike every time even with that safety coming down.”
After a false start penalty by tackle Ed McCarthy ’07 and three runs for minimal gains, Yale called a timeout to mull its fourth-and-five options.
“We called timeout and I actually walked out to see if you could kick a field goal there,” Siedlecki said. “There was no way. It was an absolute quagmire. That was out of the question.”
Plan B worked like a charm. Mroz, surveying his passing options from the shotgun, chose Feiereisen, who ran a quick slant for the first down and then 15 more yards for the touchdown.
“Our sideline erupted with that one,” Siedlecki said. “It was like the weight of the world went off our shoulders.”
The defense stymied Dartmouth the rest of the way. With Dyches harassed by two and sometimes three blockers in the second half, other defenders took advantage. Defensive tackle Jared Hamilton ’08 and end Kyle Hawari ’09 recorded sacks, and safety Nick Solakian ’07 did his best superman impression on an interception of Rittgers. Dyches, linebacker Lee Driftmeier ’07, and safety Matt Handlon ’06 were the high tacklers.
The shutout win was Yale’s first over Dartmouth since 1979. It also makes the Elis, who had stumbled at times in an uneven first month, the Ancient Eight’s lone 2-0 team.
“Sure, we’re 2-2 but we don’t look at it like that,” Mroz said. “We won two games that we needed to win. Our goal is to win the Ivy League championship and we’re still right on course.”