UPDATED: October 17, 2015, at 8:30 p.m.
EASTON, Penn.—On Saturday afternoon, the Lafayette football team (1-6, 0-2 Patriot) emerged dramatically, racing through an inflatable leopard’s head and sprinting down a sideline packed with homecoming fans.
A few minutes later, when play actually began, the great feline blow-up had deflated to a trembling sheet, forcing groundskeepers to drag the plastic off the field.
It may not have been a metaphor, but the fate of the inflatable set the tone on an afternoon when the visiting Crimson (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) took the air out of the Leopards’ offense. Harvard held Lafayette to negative 18 rushing yards, and for the first time since 1930, the Crimson conceded less than three points for the third straight week, smothering the Leopards, 42-0.
“We’re a good football team,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “We do the things good football teams do. Specifically, we played great defense.”
The closest Lafayette came to scoring on the Crimson’s first-team defense came on the host’s first possession of the third quarter, when quarterback Drew Reed moved his team into the red zone after three straight completions to top receiver Matt Mrazek.
A few plays later, Mrazek appeared to score when he wrested a 50-50 ball away from senior defensive back Jordan Becerra. But a holding call negated the play, and Lafayette turned the ball over on downs to preserve the blank sheet.
Meanwhile, Harvard exerted total control from the start en route to its 19th consecutive win. Senior quarterback Scott Hosch led two early touchdown drives, senior running back Paul Stanton eclipsed 100 rushing yards on his second carry of the third quarter, and for the fifth week in a row, second-stringers saw significant playing time.
One starter who made major contributions after halftime was senior tight end Ben Braunecker, who totaled 123 yards on six catches, all in the second half. Late in the third quarter, he was the focal point of the Crimson’s longest drive of the day, a 90-yard march that ended with a scoring run by senior wide receiver Seitu Smith.
However, the standout performance of the day came from a defensive unit that opened the game with a trio of three-and-outs. Throughout the contest, Harvard brought pressure in creative ways, ending with four sacks. Tight coverage in the secondary limited Reed to just over five yards per attempt.
“Football is a lot about momentum,” senior linebacker Eric Medes said. “The fact that we could shut them down right away and sort of demoralize them…that really helps with the tone of the game.”
The same could not be said for the Lafayette defense, which allowed car-sized holes throughout the game. On the Crimson’s first touchdown drive, it was Stanton who capitalized, tallying 44 yards on three carries and a 16-yard score.
Stanton added another touchdown—a one-yard churn—in the final minute of the first half. On that possession, Harvard received the ball on its own 44 after a deflected punt by senior defensive back Sean Ahern, the fourth such play this season.
However, the Crimson special teams showed some cracks over the afternoon. In the first quarter, sophomore punter Zach Schmid shanked two separate punts, one of which landed in the stands.
That wayward kick ended Harvard’s first possession, which showed more signs of sloppiness than success. On consecutive plays, the Leopards’ defensive line broke through to force a holding call, a batted pass, and a hurried throwaway.
Still, the Crimson defense matched its counterpart tackle-for-tackle—and then some. Lafayette didn’t record a first down until 3:25 remained in the first quarter. On that drive, the Leopards moved the chains two more times, but the attack stalled after a 10-yard sack by junior defensive tackle Miles McCollum.
“They’re a really banged up team,” Murphy said. “They’ve had as many injuries as any Division I team I’ve seen in a long time…. That certainly was a critical factor in the game.”
On an afternoon when youth and depth were on display, two freshmen propelled the Crimson’s second scoring march. Wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley advanced Harvard into enemy territory with a 40-yard run-and-catch, and running back Noah Reimers pushed the attack to the one-yard line.
In this case, Hosch won the box score glory, diving in for the touchdown. But Reimers would get his own score with 12:46 left—a four-yard rush that pushed the margin to 42.
The only non-rushing score of the game came in the third quarter, when Braunecker benefited from blown coverage on a 32-yard post route.
“Scotty’s my boy,” Braunecker said. “We’ve been doing this even on the scout team freshman year all the way up until now, so this is just sort of the tip of the iceberg that’s coming into the spotlight right now.”
Saturday’s prolific offensive performance capped a historic five-game start to the season in which Harvard has averaged 44 points per game; no Crimson team has matched this feat since 1892. Moreover, Harvard did not commit a turnover for the fourth straight game. The team ranks first in the FCS with only one giveaway all season.
Yet the most important zero at the end of the game was the one next to the Leopards’ name on the scoreboard. When, with three minutes left, the Crimson defense stopped Lafayette on its final possession, part of the Harvard bench spilled onto the field—starters and second-stringers celebrating as the shutout drew to a close.
“Getting a shutout might be one of the hardest things to do in football,” Medes said. “Just being able to pride ourselves on that and have two of them so far this season, it’s pretty great.”
—Staff writer Sam Danello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.