Dartmouth senior running back Rashaad Cooper took the handoff and lunged toward the goal line. Linebacker Nick Miller was there to force a fumble, but Dartmouth offensive lineman Phil Berton fell on the football in the end zone. Touchdown Big Green.
That play put Penn football down 14-0, and almost seemed like a metaphor for the game as a whole. Penn's defense was there to make the play, but Dartmouth’s offensive line was too good.
Behind its lineman on both sides of the ball, Dartmouth methodically dismantled Penn in both teams’ Ivy opener to the tune of 37-14.
"The only stat needed to be seen was the stat on the scoreboard at the end of the game. It was a lot to a little, and I give Dartmouth credit — they came out and controlled the ball," coach Ray Priore said.
Entering the game, statistics indicated the defenses of both teams were among the best in the FCS, let alone the Ivy League. Penn (2-1, 0-1 Ivy) had 17 sacks in just two games, tied for the FCS lead, while Dartmouth (3-0, 1-0) lead the nation in yards allowed.
In the first half, the game’s billing as a defensive grind was secure — Dartmouth held Penn to just six first downs and the Quakers kept the Big Green to 13 points. After getting good field position for the first time, sophomore quarterback Ryan Glover led the Quakers on a five-play 48-yard touchdown drive. Junior running back Karekin Brooks punched it in with just a minute and a half left in the half, making it a one-possession game.
"You knew it was going to be similar to last year, right?" Priore asked. "It was a big, physical pounding, and you just can't give up field position the way we did and keep on thinking you're going to survive."
Any hope of a comeback after halftime was quickly eliminated as the Big Green offense worked quickly to extend their lead on a 59-yard touchdown pass less than two minutes into the half. They continued to move the ball effectively, scoring 21 points in the third quarter.
Dartmouth’s offensive line dominated Penn’s strong defensive front, creating plenty of running room for ball carriers, including wildcat quarterback Jared Gerbino, who scored the game's first touchdown. They also prevented Penn from recording a sack.
The Big Green offensive line also scored two touchdowns. Aside from the fumble recovery in the first half, sophomore Jake Guidone lined up as an extra blocker at the goal line before flaring out and catching a wide-open touchdown pass as a tight end.
Penn’s defensive backs were banged up entering the game, and the depth chart got even thinner after a first quarter injury to senior corner Jyron Walker. Dartmouth quarterback Derek Kyler took advantage in the second half with touchdown passes of 59, 19, and 4 yards. Kyler finished with the same number of incompletions as touchdowns (three).
A late Penn touchdown drive led by junior quarterback Nick Robinson, who played in relief of Glover, was a small consolation prize. The garbage time touchdown was, however, one of the only times the offense looked comfortable.
"You can't lose the faith. It's a League loss, we all get it, understand it, and we [get] a nice long bus ride home just to make it feel a little worse," Priore said. "It'll be a good time to reflect on what we need to do to come back next week strong and regroup."
Penn will get another non-conference tune up against Sacred Heart before resuming Ivy play. The Sacred Heart game represents an opportunity for the Quakers to regroup, regain their confidence and bounce back before the Ivy season begins in earnest.