After a season of peaks and valleys, packed with unforgettable comebacks and nailbiter endings, the football team (5-5, 3-4 Ivy League) concluded its schedule on Saturday with a tough Senior Day loss to Dartmouth (6-4, 5-2) by a final score of 38-13.
“This is where we want to be, in big games that matter at the end of the year,” Head Coach James Perry ’00 said in an interview following the game. “Next time we put ourselves in a (good) position at the end of the season, how do we convert and string a few wins together? The only way you get to this point is you fight and claw.”
The Bears were playing for the opportunity to clinch their first winning record since 2013, as well as potentially earn a tie for second place in the Ivy standings depending on other league results. Dartmouth, meanwhile, had the ability to earn a share of the Ivy title with a win over Brown and a Yale victory over first-place Harvard, pushing the Crimson, Bulldogs and Big Green into a three-way tie as champions.
After the clock hit zero on the Brown Stadium scoreboard, the Dartmouth team and their fans watched as an instant classic unfolded in New Haven. When Yale finally took a definitive 23-18 lead against the Crimson in the game’s final minutes, the Big Green group on the field erupted in celebration.
Dartmouth’s season was underscored by the tragic passing of legendary Head Coach Buddy Teevens in September. Sammy McCorkle, named interim head coach in Teevens’s absence, was made permanent head coach on Oct. 19.
“That’s a lot to go through, losing not just your head coach, but someone who they love dearly in Buddy,” Perry said. “For Sam to be thrust into a position like that and embrace that challenge as well as he did and as well as his players did, it’s a credit to them.”
In the season finale, Dartmouth jumped out to a 28-7 lead at halftime, scoring four touchdowns and outgaining Brown 304 to 141. Brown’s lone first-half score came on a second-quarter 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Willcox ’24 to wide receiver Graham Walker ’24.
Dartmouth tacked on a field goal in the third quarter to go ahead 31-7 before each team added a touchdown in the fourth quarter, with Bears backup quarterback Nate Lussier ’24 pulling off a 30-yard rush to the endzone.
Bruno struggled to prevent big plays, with three of Dartmouth’s five touchdowns coming on rushes of 35 yards or greater. The Big Green also suffocated the Bears with pressure all afternoon, finishing with five sacks for 42 yards.
“They’re exceptionally strong,” Perry said of Dartmouth’s championship team. “We didn’t play our best football on the line of scrimmage, and they make you pay.”
“They’re a tough team and they play really disciplined football,” Willcox said. “They came to play today, so congratulations to them.”
The Senior Day game marked the last time donning the Bears uniform for a group of six fifth-year seniors, including co-captains Wes Rockett ’23.5 and Ethan Royer ’23.5, as well as the potential final contest for a group of 23 other seniors.
“We had some really exciting wins this year,” Royer said, citing victories against Princeton, Columbia, Penn and Bryant University. Royer “learned a lot and had a good time with my friends, so that’s what I’m gonna miss the most, just hanging out with my buddies.”
“I’m getting emotional just talking about” the fifth-year seniors, Willcox said. “I’m gonna remember all the guys and all the memories we made together, just our friendships.”
Perry spoke to the impact the fifth-year seniors have had on the team, and the legacy they leave behind: “They’re terrific people. They’re terrific players. They showed tremendous resiliency, and when we win championships, it’s gonna be because of these guys and … how they really helped us turn a corner as a program and (gave) us a lot to build off.”
“We’ve still got a long way to go as a program, but reflecting upon their efforts I think will help motivate us this offseason,” he continued.
For a Bears program that hadn’t finished better than 3-7 since 2016, the 5-5 record represents a major step forward in Perry’s fourth season of leadership. This was also the Bears’ first time avoiding a losing season since 2015
Losing was “obviously not the outcome wanted today,” Willcox said, “but throughout the year you’re seeing a team that gave it their all every game and no matter what they were gonna fight to the very end.”
“I’m really happy with the state of the program right now and the guys that we got in it, so (I) look forward to seeing what they will do in the future,” Royer said. “They know how to work and what it’s gonna take, so as long as they just keep grinding in the offseason and putting in that extra time I think they’ll be successful and they know that.”
The season also featured a number of standout Brunonian performances. On the defensive side, cornerback Isaiah Reed ’25 led the conference with five interceptions, one of which put a stop to a potential Dartmouth scoring drive in the first quarter on Saturday. On the offensive side, Willcox and Rockett led the Ivy League in total passing and receiving yards, respectively.
“Obviously we want to win every game and win the Ivy League championship,” Willcox said. “We came up a little short this year, but (I) guarantee we’ll be in the weight room Monday getting ready to do it next season.”
As for whether the fourth-year senior and star quarterback Willcox will be returning next fall, he left little room for speculation: “I’m gonna be back, no doubt. I’m not leaving here until I get to do what we’re trying to do here.”
The 2024 Bears season is scheduled to kick off on Sep. 21 against Georgetown University, with the home opener against Harvard set for Sep. 28.
Linus is a sports editor from New York City. He is a junior concentrating in English, and when he's out of The Herald office you can find him rooting for the Mets, watching Star Wars or listening to The Beach Boys.