On Friday night, 47 became the magic number for Dartmouth kicker Owen Zalc. The first-year from Cary, N.C. stepped up to kick a 47-yard field goal with 1:28 remaining to give Dartmouth (4–4 overall, 3–2 Ivy League) a win over Princeton (4–4, 3–2). Zalc is now 4-for-4 on 47-yard field goals this season, but none were as big as Friday night’s.
While the loss may come as a surprise to Tiger fans, the Big Green have dominated the Tigers in recent years. After the win on Friday night, Dartmouth is now 10–3 in their last 13 matchups against Princeton. The last time the Tigers won in Hanover was in 2009, before current head coach Bob Surace ’90 arrived.
This contest also marked the 100th anniversary of Dartmouth’s historic Memorial Field, which was completed in 1923. In 429 games played at Memorial Field, the Big Green have posted an impressive 276–145–8 record (64 percent).
After winning the coin toss and electing to defer, the Tigers forced a three and out by the Big Green. The Tiger defense — led by senior linebackers Ozzie Nicholas and Liam Johnson — has been a headache for opposing offenses.
Unfortunately for Princeton, their opening drive lasted just a few seconds. On the first offensive snap, senior quarterback Blake Stenstrom threw a pass that went right through the hands of junior wide-receiver AJ Barber, leading to a Dartmouth pick-six, making the score reach 7–0 in the opening four minutes.
The Tigers received the ball back immediately, hoping to orchestrate a drive down the field to tie the game. With 8:46 remaining in the first quarter and a 3rd-and-18 at the Dartmouth 42, Princeton tried to get into field goal range to give junior kicker Sam Massick a chance to put three points on the board. However, the Big Green defense had other plans, forcing Stenstrom to fumble the ball. Stenstrom’s second critical error of the game allowed Dartmouth to recover the ball with good field position.
After three straight stops by the Tiger defense, Dartmouth had a 4th-and-4 at their own 50. Dartmouth head coach Sammy McCorkle decided to take a risk that paid off, drawing up a fake punt that got the Big Green over 25 yards. The Princeton defense came up big yet again with a stop, but Dartmouth was able to make it 10–0 from inside the red zone.
“That certainly wasn’t the start we wanted to achieve, but I was so proud of the fight we showed,” Surace told The Daily Princetonian. “No one panicked and we did a good job staying together."
Princeton managed just 16 yards from its next six plays, having to punt again. However, the Tigers caught a break when Dartmouth muffed the punt, giving Stenstrom and the offense the ball in opposing territory.
This time around, Surace and his offense made good use of the possession. The Tigers marched down the field for a touchdown by junior running back John Volker, cutting the deficit to three.
Princeton got the ball back just a few minutes later after their defense came up big once again. With 7:19 remaining in the first half, the Tigers began a drive at their own 20.
Junior running back Jiggie Carr broke three tackles on a 25-yard run to start the drive. After failing to convert the first down following the run, Volker burst up the middle into Big Green territory. Despite impressive runs from their running backs, the Tigers’ drive stalled, and they were forced to punt.
On their next drive, after another forced three-and-out by the Princeton defense, the Tigers had prime field position at the 50. A pass from Stenstrom to junior wide receiver Luke Colella put the Tigers inside the 30, on Colella’s 32nd reception of the season.
“Luke has so much energy and heart,” Surace said about his leading wide receiver. “He works so hard and has really improved his route running each year. It’s been fun to see him take the next step in his play.”
Four plays later, Volker was once again in the end zone for a rushing touchdown. After Massick converted the extra point, it was 14–10 Princeton. Dartmouth failed to score in the final two minutes, giving the Tigers the lead heading into the locker room.
With the Big Green producing little to no offense in the first half, the team opted for a change at quarterback. It was third-string junior Jackson Proctor who took over, and the change helped the Big Green tremendously. He immediately led his offense on an eight-play, 57-yard touchdown drive to give his team a 17–14 lead out of the half.
But the Tigers answered on the following possession. A short drive was highlighted by a 62-yard pass from Stenstrom to Collela to make it 21–17 Princeton. This was Collela’s second straight game with a touchdown, as he scored the previous week during a 14–3 win at Cornell.
“I think just making the most of my opportunities is key when talking about finding my role,” Colella told the ‘Prince.’ “I believe in myself as a player, and I know I’m capable of making some great plays for our team. When the coaches call my number, I will be ready.”
After this touchdown, things went downhill for Princeton, as the Tigers failed to score for the remainder of the game. Proctor led Dartmouth down the field into Princeton territory, with the drive ending with a 38-yard field goal going through the uprights by Zalc. At the end of the third quarter, Princeton held a narrow 21–20 lead.
On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Stenstrom’s night continued to worsen. The quarterback was hit from behind and lost control of the ball for the second time. However, the Princeton defense continued to give Stenstrom opportunities, making three straight stops, putting Dartmouth in a predicament as they had a 4th-and-1 at the Princeton 44. The ensuing fourth down play was short, giving Princeton the ball back.
“Dartmouth always has a very solid defense [that] plays very disciplined,” Stenstrom told the ‘Prince.’ “They have been a very good opponent for us historically, and this year was no different. Our goal for this week is to take it one day at a time and do everything in our power to win that day. We are going to put our heads down and work day in and day out to finish this season strong.”
After gaining seven yards and being in Big Green territory, the Tigers committed two offensive penalties in back-to-back possessions to set up a 3rd-and-23. Princeton was forced to punt the ball, but got the ball back immediately as the Dartmouth offense failed to go anywhere.
Stenstrom led the offense and set up a 47-yard field goal for Princeton. Unfortunately, 47 was not the magic number for the Tigers — their kick was blocked by the Big Green special teams. Dartmouth returned the blocked kick for a touchdown, but the Tigers caught a break when a flag brought the ball all the way back.
On the ensuing Dartmouth possession, Proctor orchestrated a drive into opposing territory, a drive that perfectly set up the game-winning 47-yard field goal for Zalc.
For the 4th time in 3 weeks, @owenzalc has connected from 47 yards, this time providing the game-winner with 1:28 to play!— Dartmouth Football (@DartmouthFTBL) November 4, 2023
FINAL: Big Green 23, Tigers 21
We are now 3-2 in the @IvyLeague and 4-4 overall.#TheWoods 🌲 | #GoBigGreen pic.twitter.com/s2qCkkdVDa
Stenstrom had one more shot to lead a game-winning drive, but Princeton turned the ball over on downs. The win continued the Big Green’s dominance over the Tigers and sealed an important win for Dartmouth, who moved to 3–2 in the conference.
After Saturday’s results in the Ivy League, the Crimson (7–1, 4–1) sit atop the Ivy League standings. Behind the Crimson is a four-way tie for second place with Penn, Yale, Dartmouth, and Princeton all sitting at 3–2.
The Tigers will return to action this Saturday when they host Yale (5–3, 3–2) at Princeton Stadium at 12 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
The biggest headline for students on campus will be a potential bonfire. The bonfire is one of the most memorable events at Princeton and a long-standing tradition for the Tigers, and it only occurs when Princeton beats Harvard and Yale in the same season. But for the team, there are other priorities.
“Great teams respond to a loss the same way they respond to a win — winning each day one at a time and getting one percent better than you were when it started,” said Johnson. “We’re not thinking about a bonfire, we’re thinking about how can we win on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The game is won before it’s fought.”
Hayk Yengibaryan is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please send corrections to corrections[at]princeton.edu.