Before the football team plays Dartmouth on Saturday, the spotlight will be on the 22 senior players being honored on Senior Day. But once the ceremony ends and the game starts, two first years might steal the show.
Brown cornerback A.J. Cruz '13 and Dartmouth freshman quarterback Greg Patton are the reigning Ivy League Defensive and Ivy League Offensive Players of the Week.
Cruz had a team-high nine tackles, three pass break-ups and one interception for Brown last week. Patton, meanwhile, got his first chance in a varsity game for Dartmouth because of injuries at quarterback. The freshman stepped into the Big Green's wildcat formation and had 29 carries for a school-record 243 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
"I was hoping I'd get (Ivy League) Rookie of the Week," said Cruz, who was honored as the league's top defensive rookie for an earlier performance against Cornell. "Every time I've looked through, you never have a freshman win the (Ivy League) Defensive or Offensive (Player of the Week), so I was like, ‘Alright my only shot is Rookie.' "
Cruz is unlikely to be swatting away too many passes from his fellow freshman award winner this week — Patton is more of a threat on the ground than in the air. In the Big Green's overtime victory over Cornell last week, Dartmouth ran a two-quarterback system, with Patton as the rushing quarterback and Connor Kempe as the passer.
"We haven't thrown the ball a whole lot with (Patton)," said Dartmouth Head Coach Buddy Teevens. "We had two attempts on Saturday, and they weren't pretty."
But Cruz is still excited to face the young quarterback.
"It will be exciting to go against him," Cruz said. "I mean, he hasn't thrown the ball too much. So if they do, hopefully I could pick him off, make a play."
Head Coach Phil Estes said Cruz has been making plays for the Bears game after game this season. The freshman cornerback leads the Ivy League in passes defended — with 11 — and is second in the league in interceptions, with three.
Though he is now a league leader, Cruz started the season on the sidelines. He didn't see any action in Brown's opener versus Stony Brook. But when Rusty Leedy '11 got injured against Harvard, Cruz got a chance.
"Whenever you have an opportunity coming in, and you're not the guy, you always — or at least I always feel like — you've got to prove something," Cruz said.
Cruz had 2.5 tackles, including one for a loss, against Harvard. He has started every game since.
In the last three weeks, he has had plenty of opportunities, with opposing teams throwing to his side often.
"They look at it and say, ‘Freshman.' They look at his size, and say, ‘We can beat him,' " Estes said after the Yale game. "But A.J. is a hell of a player. He's one of the best natural corners I have ever seen."
The 5-foot, 9-inch freshman has had an interception in each of the team's last three games.
Cruz "has been making big plays in big moments," said co-captain Jimmy Develin '10. "It's incredible for a freshman to be doing that kind of stuff — especially at cornerback. I mean, that's one of the riskiest positions to play because, you know, you make a mistake, it's usually a touchdown.
"He's really been coming up big for us," he added.
When asked about teams throwing to his side, Cruz smiled. "They keep trying to pick on me, but I love it," he said. "That just means I get more action and more opportunity to make big plays."
Develin said that's what Cruz does best.
"He's a playmaker," Develin said. "That's all there is to it."
Dartmouth didn't win a game last season. This year, the Big Green (2-6, 2-3 Ivy) will travel to Providence coming off of a 20-17 win over Cornell.
Estes said his Bears (5-3, 3-2 Ivy) will face a "much-improved Dartmouth football team."
Dartmouth has had an up-and-down season, with only two wins to show for it. Earlier this season, the Big Green put up 24 points against Penn — more than anyone else has scored on the nation's No. 1 defense. But the Big Green still ranks second-to-last in scoring offense in the Ivy League.
Only twice a Dartmouth rusher has gone for over 240 yards in a game. Yet the Big Green ranks sixth among the eight Ivies in rushing offense. Dartmouth running back Nick Schwieger, the league's leading rusher, broke his finger and is out for the season.
Last week against Cornell, Dartmouth's two-quarterback system provided a replacement running game, with Patton coming out of the wildcat formation.
"It's amazing to watch Patton just run and make some plays on some quarterback counters and sweeps," Estes said. "He's a terrific football player."
On the other side of the ball, Dartmouth has struggled for most of the season. The team currently ranks last in the league in defense.
"They're always in zone coverage with very little blitzes," said wide receiver Bobby Sewall '10. "They blitz somewhere along the lines of 8 percent of the time."
The Bears will probably turn to the pass more often, especially if Dartmouth remains in its zone defense.
Brown quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero '11 leads the Ivy League in completions, attempts, touchdowns, interceptions, yards, total offense and pass efficiency. With two of the league's top receivers in Sewall and Buddy Farnham '10, the Bears' aerial attack should have a big day against Dartmouth.
The Big Green rank last in the league in rushing defense, and, if the Big Green allows them to, the Bears will run, especially if their passing game puts them up early and they want to start grinding time off the clock.
Brown running back Zach Tronti '11 is out for the season with a torn MCL and ACL, so Spiro Theodhosi '12 will start in the backfield. Theodhosi had 167 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries against Yale.
But the Bears aren't taking the Big Green lightly.
"They're playing every play to the whistle," Sewall said. "Those are the teams that can really sneak up on you. Those are the teams you have to be aware of."