The Bears took care of business for the second week in a row, staging a fourth-quarter rally to defeat Dartmouth 28-24 in Hanover, N.H. The game marked the team's first road victory against an Ivy League opponent this fall and secured a winning record for the season.
Though the Ivy championship title is out of reach, Head Coach Phil Estes said the win was important for the Bears (6-3, 3-3 Ivy). "We want to have a winning season in the league and overall," he said. And particularly given the team's tough road schedule and the many injuries it has had to overcome on offense, Estes said "to come back and have a 7-3 season would be incredible."
Quarterback Patrick Donnelly '13 said the team has been able to effectively rebound from these injuries because other players have risen to the occasion to make big plays. "That's why you're a team," he said. "If one guy goes down, the guy who's been practicing the whole season can come up to fill that role."
Estes also downplayed the impact that player absences have had on the team's game plan. "Injuries are injuries - they happen all the time," he said. "Basically, someone has to set up. We don't treat it as a woe."
Estes said the Dartmouth victory was even more satisfying because it allowed Bruno to avenge last November's 21-16 loss to the Big Green, an upset that knocked them out of serious contention for the top spot in the league standings.
"To the seniors, this win means everything. It really does," Donnelly said. "It's the chance to right what we did wrong last year."
After recovering an early Dartmouth fumble, the Bears drove the ball 28 yards for a touchdown, putting the first score on the board. But the Big Green (5-4, 3-3) responded emphatically, taking control of the game for much of the second quarter and scoring 17 unanswered points.
Dartmouth's offensive momentum was unleashed on a recovered fumble which set up an easy 23-yard field goal attempt for Riley Lyons. On the next Big Green drive, Dominick Pierre broke through the Bruno defense for a 33-yard dash that took him into the end zone and put his team ahead 10-7.
Despite starting with an impressive 38-yard punt return by Emory Polley '14, Bruno went three and out on their following attempt, giving the ball back to a Dartmouth team that continued to pick up steam. Assisted by a critical personal foul that cost the Bears 15 yards, the Big Green's freshman quarterback Dalyn Williams orchestrated an 81-yard drive that was capped by a short touchdown run by Pierre, his second of the game.
The drive, which propelled Dartmouth to a 10-point lead, also ate up nearly eight minutes, leaving the Bears with just 1:31 in the half to come up with an answer to the Big Green's relentless attack.
But that was all the time they needed. Co-captain and defensive back AJ Cruz '13, who had a phenomenal performance in last weekend's Yale shutout with two interceptions, returned a deep punt 26 yards to set up the drive at the Brown 36. Donnelly took over from there, quickly executing on a series that he finished off with a two-yard run into the end zone, narrowing the Big Green's halftime lead to 17-14.
Estes said the team gave a "good offensive effort but should've been a lot better," pointing to the unit's fumbles and penalties. Though the Big Green fell short on its first scoring opportunity of the third quarter after Lyons missed a 28-yard field goal attempt, they managed to drive the ball 88 yards for a touchdown on their next drive, widening the lead to 24-14.
But with that, Dartmouth's offensive steam had seemingly run out, as they failed to advance farther than the Brown 33 for the remainder of the game.
A 14-yard pass interference call on the Big Green early in the fourth was followed with a sack by linebacker Daniel Giovacchini '15 for a loss of another 12, bringing Dartmouth back to its own 2-yard line on a fourth-and-30. Taking advantage of the great field position, Bruno scored another touchdown on a 3-yard run by Donnelly.
With 3:37 remaining and the Bears still trailing 24-21, the Big Green tried to pin their opponents far downfield using a pooch punt, but Bruno caught a critical break as the ball landed in the end zone.
Estes indicated his team got lucky on this potentially game-changing play. "If that ball fell where it should have, we're talking a 90-something yard drive."
Donnelly commanded a flawless 80-yard drive, with Jordan Evans '14, Alexander Viox '15 and Jonah Fay '12.5 each coming up with receptions of at least 17 yards to get the ball in the end zone for the winning touchdown. Fay caught the game-winning pass from Donnelly after a nice move to create separation from the corner.
"It was a two-minute drill we practice every Thursday," Estes said. "He directed that offense to the T. He's not only good with his arm but also with his feet."
Donnelly, who passed for 233 yards, also ran for 11 yards on this final drive, bringing his rushing total to 48.
The score put Bruno ahead 28-24 with just 1:14 remaining, and the Big Green could not come up with what would have been a stunning finish.
Overall, Estes said the team's defensive performance was "good enough for us to win." "We didn't tackle as well as we could have, and we let them get out of some situations," he added, citing the Big Green's ability to convert on some third-and-long situations. Dartmouth was successful on seven of 15 third down attempts, a sharp contrast to last week, when Bruno's defensive unit did not allow a Yale third- or fourth-down conversion on 12 attempts.
"We shot ourselves in the foot enough times that we gave them the chance to win," Estes said. "But we kept grinding away. Our guys had the belief that they could win this game."
Donnelly echoed his coach's sentiment. "Our offense was confident the whole game," he said. "I kept reiterating to the guys that Dartmouth hadn't really stopped us. We were stopping ourselves with fumbles and mistakes. It was self-inflicted, and we never thought we were going to lose the game."
The Bears will return to Brown Stadium for the season's final game Saturday against Columbia. Even though they are no longer in contention for the coveted Ivy title, Estes said the team will give its best this weekend.
"We compete for the day, not for the season," Estes said. "Whoever it is we're playing, it's just a team we need to beat on Saturday."
Donnelly was similarly excited for the team's final game. "We're putting everything into this one game," he said. "No one's holding anything back now. We've just got 60 minutes of football left."