Whether it was the torrential rains that soaked Memorial Field before game time or the Elis’ excitement at the prospect of their first 4-0 start since 1981, Yale could not hold onto the ball on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1 Ivy) fumbled three times and took a tumble when they fell to Dartmouth (1-3, 1-1 Ivy) 20-17 in Hanover, N.H.
“We did what we had to do to set us in position to win the game, and we turned the ball over,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We turned the ball over three times. They didn’t have a single turnover, and that made the difference in the game.”
Although Yale made some great plays to stay in the game, three key fumbles — two by special team units — and faulty special-team play buried the Bulldogs’ chances.
The Yale defense got off to a great start, stopping Dartmouth’s opening drive without permitting a single first down and forcing the Big Green to punt from their 44-yard line.
But then Yale’s troubles began.
Punt returner Barton Simmons ’04 caught the 31-yard punt and returned the ball 11 yards before fumbling right into the hands of Dartmouth’s Bob Reeves.
“He stripped me, I wasn’t carrying the ball tightly,” Simmons said. “I had a lot of room to run and got excited.”
The Big Green began with the ball on the Yale 36-yard line and eventually scored the first points of the game when quarterback Brian Mann pushed his way over a heap of bodies on the goal line for a touchdown.
Yale pulled even at 10-10 going into halftime, but disaster struck again six minutes into the second half. Dartmouth cornerback Richard Efem squeezed through the Yale offensive line and sacked quarterback Jeff Mroz ’05, who fumbled the ball as he fell. The fumble was recovered by Dartmouth linebacker Josh Dooley at the Yale 22. Three plays later, Mann scored Big Green’s second touchdown of the game off a 20-yard scramble.
After three lackluster quarters, Yale roared back in the fourth. In Dartmouth’s first two drives of the quarter, the Yale defense held the Big Green to just six plays and 14 yards with no first downs for a total possession time of 3:39.
Feeding off the defensive success, Yale’s offense pulled Yale within three off a 42-yard touchdown bomb from Mroz to tight end Nate Lawrie ’04.
After kicking off to Dartmouth, the Yale defense continued its stalwart play, once again preventing Dartmouth from gaining a first down. When Dartmouth punter Alex Ware stepped onto the field with just over five minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs smelled blood.
But a win was not in Yale’s cards Saturday. Simmons, who was fielding the punt, let the ball slip through his hands, leading to the costliest Yale turnover of the game.
“I wanted to get good field position, but made a mistake that hurt us,” Simmons said. “I should’ve let it go. I figured I had a lot of room to run, but I should’ve played it safe.”
With possession of the ball, Dartmouth took its time, wearing down the clock with runs and calling timeouts just before the play clock expired.
When Yale got the ball back on its own 27-yard line with 1:08 left in the game, the 3-point deficit looked insurmountable. But the Bulldogs had other thoughts. Through a series of masterful passes from Mroz, the Yale offense raced 55 yards to the Dartmouth 18-yard line.
With seven seconds left in the game, the Yale offense handed the ball to placekicker John Troost ’05 for a game-tying 35-yard field goal attempt to send the game into overtime.
But it was not meant to be. Dartmouth free safety Clayton Smith blocked Troost’s low kick, ending Yale’s courageous comeback.
“We came out flat and we didn’t have the intensity that we’ve been having,” Yale tailback Robert Carr ’05 said. “In the fourth quarter, we got some of that intensity back, but it was a little too late. We’ve got to have that intensity for 60 minutes and not 15.”
While Yale struggled, Dartmouth accomplished just about everything it planned. The Big Green had not run the ball well all season and coming into Saturday’s game, Yale expected Dartmouth to once again turn to its passing attack. Instead, Dartmouth tailback Mike Giles came out of the gates running, racking up 164 yards on 34 carries. Mann chipped in an additional 49 yards, including two touchdown runs.
On defense, the Big Green found a way to contain Carr — something San Diego, Cornell and Holy Cross all failed to do. Although Carr still managed 108 yards on the day, this paled in comparison to his performance in Yale’s previous two games, where Carr averaged over 200 yards.
“Dartmouth did a good job against the run,” Siedlecki said. “They did not stop us, but they contained us by not allowing any big run plays.”
Field position really hurt Yale throughout the game. Yale punter Chandler Henley ’06 had a nightmarish day, kicking two balls off the side of his foot, both setting the Big Green up in Yale’s territory. Ryan Allen ’05 handled the punting duties in Yale’s first three games.
“Dartmouth’s longest scoring drive was 40 yards,” Siedlecki said. “Our shortest scoring drive was 55 yards. Field position killed us, and it was a direct result of our three turnovers and the fact that they did not have a turnover.”
Possession time also contributed to Yale’s defeat. The Big Green controlled the ball for 35:42, while the Elis held the ball for just 25:18.
“We now understand that teams come ready to play and [Dartmouth] came more ready to play than we thought they were,” captain Jason Lange ’03 said. “[This game] gives us more perspective on what the rest of our Ivy League schedule is going to be like. Guys know now that they have to step up.”