Football Falls on Tough Times

The Raider football team has a bye in its schedule this week as the team gets ready for its Homecoming game against Cornell next weekend. The team could certainly use the week off.

For the first time in seven years, the Raiders fell to Dartmouth, 26-21, in Hanover, NH on Saturday, to drop their record to 1-2 on the young season.

Against the Big Green, turnovers killed Colgate. The Raiders’ two fumbles and two interceptions translated into three Big Green touchdowns. Colgate also had three turnovers on downs, including the end to a last-gasp drive in the game’s final two minutes. The Raiders also gave up a safety. In short, the game wasn’t pretty.

“The turnovers we’ve committed have been so costly because they put points on the board for the other team,” Raider head coach Dick Biddle said. “It’s one thing to turn the ball over; it’s another to turn it over and have them run the ball back for a touchdown. Those kinds of things really go against you.”

The Raiders were slowed by several crucial injuries against Dartmouth, as the entire starting backfield of sophomore quarterback Lee Sloan, first-year tailback Steve Hansen and senior fullback Ben Evans was sidelined by the 11:27 mark of the fourth quarter. Hansen is out for the year with a knee injury that requires surgery, while Evans and Sloan are day-to-day, according to Biddle.

Banged up as they were, the Raiders still put up a good fight against a Dartmouth team playing its first game of 2005. Behind a new head coach, the Big Green was out for revenge after last year’s two-point loss at Andy Kerr Stadium. This year, the game again came down to the final minutes.

Colgate got on the board first on Saturday when Evans capped a 20-play drive that chewed up more than eight minutes of the clock with a two-yard touchdown, his first of the year. Evans’ score, which came on the first play of the second quarter, was set up by a pass interference penalty called on Dartmouth inside its own 10-yard line.

The turnovers, however, began to mount on the Raiders’ next four drives. First, Sloan fumbled after being hit in the backfield and the ball was scooped up by Dartmouth’s Josh Dooley, who scampered 29 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at seven with 12:15 to play in the first half. On the very next Colgate drive, Sloan had his pass intercepted and the ball was returned to the Raider three-yard line, setting up another Big Green score. Colgate’s next possession ended in a turnover on downs and Dartmouth marched the ball in the other direction, leading to a 42-yard field goal that gave the Big Green a commanding 17-7 advantage on the scoreboard.

The Raiders fumbled again just before halftime, but the Colgate defense, which was coming off an extraordinary performance against UMass, held its ground, and the Big Green took a 10-point lead into intermission.

Short on running backs in the second half, Colgate called on first-year backup center Rich Rosabella – all 280 pounds of him – to become the Raider version of William “Refrigerator” Perry. After senior linebacker Jared Nepa’s interception gave the Raiders possession deep in Dartmouth territory, Rosabella carried the ball for a one-yard touchdown to bring Colgate within three points of the Big Green with 10:32 left in the third quarter.

“Rich came in as a blocking back,” Biddle said. “He’s an offensive lineman, but he got the call and he did a nice job putting it in. “

Every time the Raiders began to cut into the Big Green’s lead, however, Dartmouth had an answer. After Rosabella’s score, Dartmouth closed out the quarter with an interception and touchdown drive of its own.

Even a heroic effort by injured senior quarterback Mike Saraceno could not save the Raiders. Saraceno, who hobbled into the game after Sloan was injured early in the fourth quarter, led the offense on a 71-yard touchdown drive capped by first-year Jordan Scott’s 33-yard score. With Hansen gone for the rest of the season, Scott will share the tailback duties with senior Ray LaMonica and fellow first-year J.J. Bennett.

Ultimately, the Dartmouth defense was the difference. The Raiders’ last two drives ended in a safety and a failed fourth down conversion, as LaMonica was stopped cold on fourth and one at the Dartmouth 36-yard line. Had it not been for the safety only minutes earlier, the Raiders could have attempted a field goal to tie the game on their final drive instead of going for it on fourth down.

Turnovers have been the deciding factor in each of Colgate’s three games this season. The Raiders lost the ball seven times in their opening-week loss to Central Connecticut State and had eight takeaways of their own the next week in upsetting the University of Massachusetts.

“We’re a play or two away from being 3-0,” Biddle said. “We just have to find a way to win these close games instead of finding a way to lose them. Now we’ve done that in years past, and I still think we can do that this year.”

The well-rested Raiders will take the field against Cornell (1-0) next Saturday looking to turn around their tailspin of a season.