It was a tale of two 4th-and-1s.
Two plays in the last five minutes — one on each end of the field — made the difference between Penn football and Dartmouth as the Quakers came out on the wrong side of a 16-13 loss under the Friday night lights of Franklin Field.
With 5:37 left on the clock, Penn (2-1, 0-1 Ivy) had a 4th-and-1 chance on Dartmouth’s 4-yard line. Tied at 10-10, a conversion would have given them four chances to score a touchdown and put the game potentially out of reach. A false start brought the Quakers back five yards, however, and coach Ray Priore elected to kick instead to give his team a 13-10 lead.
Five minutes and 36 seconds later, Dartmouth (3-0, 1-0) had a 4th-and-1 chance on Penn’s 1-yard line. The Big Green’s wildcat quarterback Jared Gerbino hammered through his line, which made a strong surge forward, and took the game on the final play.
It was that close for the Quakers, who will rue missed chances in their second loss to Dartmouth in three years.
Though Priore recognized that the scoreboard was final, he did cite his team’s 4th-and-1 with five minutes left as a key moment in the game when things could have been different.
“We probably would have scored a touchdown that play,” he said of the play that was whistled dead after a false start. “Shoulda, coulda; that’s sport. If you had one more time, one more chance, but you don’t get that second chance.”
Still, Penn went into the game’s final drive leading, 13-10. Dartmouth had to drive 80 yards in five and a half minutes in order to win the first contest of the Ivy League season.
At any number of times the chains moved on that final drive, it might have been that they didn’t.
Stuck in their own half of the field, Dartmouth faced a 3rd-and-3 that, if unconverted, would have killed their drive just a couple plays after it started. Quarterback Jack Heneghan threw a 13-yard bullet down the middle to keep the drive going.
On the next set of downs, the Quakers forced their guests into a 4th-and-3. They managed to escape that do-or-die scenario, too.
Then, with just over a minute to go, Penn’s defense stood firm once again to put Dartmouth at a 3rd-and-4 on Penn’s 42. As the clock ticked down, it seemed that this play could decide the game.
“We needed to get out of that third down; we didn’t,” Priore said. “That would have been fourth down, and they probably would’ve went for it, and then you don’t know. But that’s the beauty of sport. You don’t know what could have happened if that thing didn’t happen.”
Instead, a 27-yard run up the gut from Gerbino saw Dartmouth find its way into the red zone, and on the next play to the goal line. The Big Green scored on the fourth time of asking to take the game.
“There’s no excuse,” senior captain and defensive end Louis Vecchio said. “We were ready for everything. If that’s the offense that they wanted to play, then so be it. We knew they were gonna try to throw tricks our way, and they still had to drive the field on us.”
The 4,000 fans in Franklin Field — and the hundreds of thousands watching across the nation on NBC Sports Network — were treated to a nail-biter in the end. Even if the home fans left disappointed, they were nonetheless entertained after the game initially seemed like it would be heading toward perpetual boredom.
Neither team scored in the first quarter, and big plays were at a premium throughout the game. No interceptions; just one fumble from Dartmouth, recovered by a Big Green lineman before anyone could say the word turnover. Priore described the contest as an old-fashioned, smash-mouth kind of game.
Penn’s offensive stars Justin Watson and Karekin Brooks were bottled up for most of the game, registering 81 and 72 all-purpose yards, respectively. Watson’s 21-yard catch was the second-longest play of the game, behind only Gerbino’s 27-yard rush.
It could have gone either way, but for a few marginal differences.
“This will burn,” Priore said. “We’ll get through the evening, and we’ll get back to work on Sunday.”
The Quakers face Central Connecticut State in a bye week from conference play next Saturday.