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High-pressure defense stuns Big Green, but not enough to secure win

Bruno’s defensive line, strong wind gusts force six Big Green turnovers in final home game of 2015 season

“That was weird,” Dartmouth Head Coach Buddy Teevens said Saturday after his Big Green team took down the Brown football team 34-18 at Brown Stadium.

While Dartmouth (8-1, 5-1 Ivy) comfortably beating Bruno (4-5, 2-4) may not have surprised many — given that the Big Green ranks first in the Ivy League while the Bears sit in fifth — the game played out in a bizarre fashion. The teams combined for 13 turnovers, Dartmouth’s star quarterback struggled and the Bears rolled out a new read-option offense that worked until it didn’t.

Amidst the new and unexpected, one familiar trend persisted for Bruno to help decide yet another loss: turnovers.

“Captain Obvious: You turn the ball over, you lose football games. We’ve lost five football games because we can’t hold onto the football,” said Head Coach Phil Estes P’18.

The Bears turned the ball over a whopping seven times, with four interceptions and three fumbles. They are now turning the ball over an average 3.56 times per game — the highest rate of any team at any level of college football. Those turnovers turned into 27 points for Dartmouth Saturday.

The Big Green entered the game with a single blemish on its record: a 14-13 loss to first-place Harvard. Dartmouth Quarterback Dalyn Williams was carving up opponents with his run-pass combo, and the injury-ridden Bruno defense appeared to be Williams’ next victim.

But the Bears’ defense, aided by a strong wind that made passing difficult, gave Williams all kinds of trouble. The pass rush got to Williams for three sacks and contained his running option, holding the versatile quarterback to negative 25 yards rushing.

The passing game did not offer Williams much solace. After throwing just one interception in the season’s first eight games, Williams was picked off three times Saturday. He completed only 50 percent of his passes for a season-low 110 yards.

“What a waste of a game with a good defensive effort,” Estes said. He also commended his defense for controlling Williams and forcing turnovers.

While the Dartmouth offense struggled to gain traction, the Big Green defense ensured it would not have to. The unit forced one Bruno turnover after another, creating short fields and easy scoring opportunities. Fumbles by running back Johnny Pena ’17 and kick returner Howard Strachan ’19 set up Dartmouth’s first two scores.

Facing a 14-0 deficit, Bruno turned to a three-quarterback rotation. Starter Marcus Fuller ’15.5 put the ball in the air, while backup Kyle Moreno ’17 scampered out of read-option keepers and quarterback-turned-halfback Seth Rosenbauer ’16 took snaps in the wildcat. The combined effort began to work as the Bears marched the field midway through the second quarter.

The rotation kept the Big Green on its heels just as Estes and the coaching staff planned. In an 80-yard touchdown drive, Fuller threw for 18 yards, Moreno ran for 43 yards and Rosenbauer capped the possession with a tough five-yard touchdown run up the middle.

“We had a package for Moreno, and we had a package for (Rosenbauer),” Estes said, adding that the windy day made the running options more important.

The momentum, which built slowly over the long touchdown drive, was dashed in the blink of an eye. Dartmouth’s Ryder Stone received the ensuing kickoff at the 11-yard line and raced the next 89 yards relatively untouched. A missed short field goal by Grant Senne ’16 — whose day also included two missed extra points — closed the half with Dartmouth leading 21-6, despite Bruno out-gaining the Big Green and holding possession for twice as long.

The second half was more of the same. A fumble short-circuited a promising Bears drive and opened the door for Dartmouth to notch its fourth touchdown. Later in the third quarter, a Fuller interception led to another short-field scoring drive.

With Dartmouth’s lead at 28, the Bears never threatened a fourth-quarter comeback, but the final frame was a strong one for the home team. Dartmouth amassed only 21 yards in its first four combined possessions and surrendered four turnovers, two of which were quickly turned into Bruno touchdowns.

Ryan MacDonald ’16 fell on a fumble deep in Dartmouth territory, paving the way for a five-yard touchdown run by Moreno. Less than a minute later, heavy pressure caused Williams to lose the ball in the end zone. Robert Hughes ’17 jumped on the pigskin for a defensive touchdown.

While the team’s seniors were honored before its final game at Brown Stadium, it was the performances of a couple of juniors that stuck out. Cornerback Jordan Ferguson ’17 was all over the field with a team-leading seven tackles, a fumble recovery and a leaping interception. Moreno was the offensive force, racking up 78 yards and a touchdown on 5.6 yards per carry. Fuller’s Senior Day was hampered by the heavy wind and ended with just 84 passing yards and three interceptions.

The most excitement either team showed all game may have been at Dartmouth’s sideline during the final play: While the offense was running out the final seconds, the bench was notified that Penn had upset Harvard in Cambridge, opening the door for Dartmouth to win a share of the Ivy title.

Bruno’s final game will be inconsequential to the Ivy championship race, but it will be interesting to see which strategy Estes employs in his offense. The pass-heavy, Fuller-led offense from early in the season may take a back seat to Moreno’s running capabilities. The season finale will take place Friday night at Columbia.


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