Close Call: Football Squeaks Out A Victory At Home

With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter against Dartmouth, senior Mike Latek made a play that may have saved the football team’s season. With the Raiders trailing 9-3 and in danger of falling to 0-2, the senior defensive tackle intercepted Dartmouth quarterback Charlie Rittger’s screen pass and rumbled 14 yards into the end zone. The extra point gave Colgate a lead it would not relinquish on its way to a much-needed win in its home opener at Andy Kerr Stadium on Saturday. “It was the biggest play of the game, that’s for sure,” head coach Dick Biddle said of Latek’s score. “Mike made a great play and it turned the game around.”Despite Latek’s heroics, the Raiders would not put Dartmouth away until the final play of the game, a two-point conversion attempt by Dartmouth that would have tied the game at 17. Junior Jeff Galletly’s deflection of Rittger’s pass finally allowed Colgate and its fans to exhale, as the Raiders escaped with a 17-15 victory.The Raiders relied on outstanding individual performances on offense, defense and special teams to pull out the win.Latek’s touchdown, along with his five tackles, earned him Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week honors, while sophomore Geoff Bean was named the League’s Special Teams Player of the Week after making four tackles on punt coverage and a key play on a Dartmouth extra point attempt in the third quarter. Perhaps most importantly, senior tailback Jamaal Branch looked like the Branch of last season. He ran for 115 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries to steady an offense that was without standout senior wide receiver Luke Graham for much of the game.Graham went down with what appeared to be a leg injury at the end of the first half. Biddle would not comment on Graham’s status for this week’s game against Georgetown, but he did note that the wideout’s absence made things more difficult on the offensive end. “Luke is an excellent receiver who probably would have made two or three catches on third downs to keep drives alive,” Biddle said. “With him out, our margin of error is much smaller.”With the Raider offense sputtering, it was Dartmouth that struck first with a field goal in the first quarter. Two spectacular catches by Dartmouth’s Andrew Hall set up the score, which accounted for the only points for either team in the first quarter. The teams would trade punts until the opening minutes of the second quarter, when senior cornerback Chris Williams’ interception sparked the Raider offense. With the Dartmouth defense flushing senior quarterback Chris Brown out of the pocket to disrupt the Raider passing game, Branch carried the load on the drive, which set up a 44-yard field goal by senior Lane Schwarzberg that tied the score at three.In the half’s closing minutes, both Brown and Graham were injured and needed to be helped off the field. Brown did return in the second half, but Graham did not.The effects of Graham’s absence would be felt in the third quarter when Anderson, filling in for Graham as punt returner, fumbled a Dartmouth punt to give the Big Green the ball in Raider territory. Dartmouth capitalized on the turnover with a drive that culminated in a touchdown with 13:25 left in the fourth quarter. On the extra point attempt, however, a high snap led to Bean tackling the Dartmouth holder on the broken play. “Geoff was outstanding on special teams,” Biddle said. “His play on the botched extra point put Dartmouth behind the eight ball and proved to be important as the game wore on.”After the Big Green stopped the Raider offense on its ensuing possession, sophomore punter Jason Sutton pinned Dartmouth deep in its own territory. That is where Latek stepped in. The senior’s interception return gave the Raiders the lead and the momentum with seven minutes left in the game. The score ignited a crowd that had been relatively quiet until then.After Colgate held the Big Green to one first down on its next possession, the Raiders got the ball back and struck quickly. Branch ripped off a touchdown run through the heart of the Dartmouth defense for what would prove to be the game-winning score. The 45-yard scramble was a sight Raider fans have grown accustomed to over the last two years: Branch busting through the line and out-running the secondary on his way to the end zone.”[Branch’s run] helped his confidence and helped the team’s confidence,” Biddle said. “That’s the kind of runner Jamaal is. He just keeps pounding and pounding until he breaks one in the third or fourth quarter.” Latek downplayed the touchdown’s importance. “I don’t think [it won the game],” he said. “We knew that if we stuck to our game plan, things would work out and we would come out on top.” Coming off their first win of the year, the Raiders begin their 2004 Patriot League season tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Andy Kerr Stadium when the team faces off with Georgetown.