It’s a common fallacy of sports journalism to rest an entire game on a single play. In a 60 minute (or 3 hour) game of football, a point scored on the opening play matters just as much to the final score as a point as the clock expires. If a last-second touchdown is a team’s last chance, then they had dozens of other chances beforehand.
In that sense, it’s not right to focus only on the final play of the Columbia Football team’s (6-0, 3-0 Ivy) victory over Dartmouth (5-1, 2-1 Ivy). The final play wouldn’t have mattered had Columbia not racked up four 3-and-outs during the last half, or had quarterback Anders Hill not lobbed the ball into triple coverage when the Lions had a chance to close out the game with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter. Similarly, Dartmouth could have made the last play irrelevant by converting their third down attempts (0 for 9 on the day), or by making a chip shot field goal at the end of the first half. And, per head coach Al Bagnoli, Dartmouth would have been stopped earlier were it not for an illegal block below the waist call made during that fateful final drive.
With all of those disclaimers in mind, the end of the Dartmouth game was an absolute mess.
The game’s fourth quarter played out like a nightmare where the Lions were running through molasses, which made Dartmouth’s victory appear nearly inevitable. After the aforementioned interception in the Dartmouth endzone, the Big Green took only seven plays and under three minutes to score a touchdown, as the Lions failed to stop the run and the pass alike. The drive ended when Columbia attempted a massive blitz on first down, leaving an open Drew Estrada on the left side to receive a 38-yard touchdown pass. The Lions then went three-and-out, giving a red-hot Dartmouth team the ball with 5:18 left on the clock, with the score at 22-17 Columbia. The Big Green once again wasted no time, quickly reaching the Columbia 6-yard line on six plays. While the Lions did put up a formidable goal-line stand, they were also aided by 20 yards worth of Dartmouth penalties. On 4th-and-goal from the 27, Dartmouth failed to convert. The Lions once again went three-and-out, and the Big Green, for a third straight time, plowed through the middle of the gridiron without an ounce of resistance.
After running roughshod over the Lions for 15 whole football minutes, Dartmouth seemed posed to score with 17 seconds left on the clock at the Columbia 7-yard line. Mike Hinton rushed with a host of Columbia defenders and sacked Dartmouth quarterback Jack Heneghan for a ten-yard loss. The referees proceeded to play an animated game of hot potato for the remaining eternity of twelve to fourteen seconds. After Dartmouth handed the ball to the officials, they bobbled it towards the Dartmouth endzone. Once they retrieved it, they placed the ball at the wrong yardline. By the time the both the ball and the referees were in position, there was not a second left on the clock. Dartmouth’s red-hot offense was neutralized not by the defense, but by the officials.
Would Dartmouth have won without official intervention? Per ESPN, the Big Green had only a 14% chance of winning after the final sack. But at the game, the offense seemed unstoppable. The Big Green would have had to make an astonishing play, after already pulling off a series of last-minute victories during their last few weeks of football. It felt more than possible. So while Columbia’s win was hard-fought, it would be naive to ignore the messy end to another episode in the Lions’ undefeated streak.
The bat of truth via Gregory Fisher