Now that’s what you call a second act.
After giving up 233 rushing yards last week to Cornell, Harvard completely flipped the script this Saturday, outrunning Lafayette 296 yards to 12. With 15 more first downs and 14:56 more possession time, the Crimson (3-2, 1-1 Ivy) dominated its opponent. In its 700th game at Harvard Stadium, the Crimson got back on track with a 38-10 rout.
Harvard exploded on the ground behind two running backs—junior Charlie Booker and freshman Aaron Shampklin. The elder member of the duo rushed for 56 yards on the first Crimson drive and finished with 159 yards and a touchdown. Booker totaled 6.9 yards per carry, just below his season average of 7.2, good for eighth in the nation. Shampklin spelled Booker throughout the matchup and tacked on 82 yards of his own.
“[Booker] keeps his pad level really low, so oftentimes he exhibits great contact-balance to bounce off the first tackler,” Leopards coach John Garrett said. “You really have to gang-tackle him. He’s tough.”
The Harvard backfield was supplemented by the special teams duo of junior receivers Justice Shelton-Mosley and Adam Scott. Before the offense had even taken the field, Shelton-Mosley had put points on the board.
Two minutes into the game, the junior fielded a 50-yard punt and planted his foot on the Crimson 15. Aided by a well-placed block, he found the edge, skirted the sideline, and stayed true to the end zone. The return was tied for the fifth-longest in Harvard history. The longest one happened two weeks ago, when Shelton-Mosley dashed 91 yards against Georgetown.
“[We had an] outstanding across-the-board team effort today, led by special teams,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “We got so much energy out of the big returns by our playmakers Justice and Adam Scott.”
Lafayette (2-5, 2-0 Patriot) answered immediately. On the subsequent kickoff, the Leopards’ junior running back CJ Amill pushed through the middle for 65 yards before being pushed out of bounds. The return set up a Lafayette touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Sean O’Malley to senior wideout Rocco Palumbo.
That offensive outburst proved futile, though, as the Crimson special teams had something more to say. At the start of the second half, Leopards kicker Jeffrey Kordenbrock nailed the ball to Scott to avoid a return by Shelton-Mosley. The strategy worked out poorly, as Scott took the kick 90 yards to the end zone, expanding Harvard’s lead to 28-7.
The Crimson offense earned its first points of the afternoon on its first appearance. Booker did much of the damage, driving through several defenders for a 31-yard sprint and then rumbling another 16 to the Lafayette four. Between the two ground gains, freshman quarterback Jake Smith hit senior halfback Ryan Antonellis on an 18-yard strike. The possession ended when Shelton-Mosley found the endzone on a reverse to the left, his second touch of the game and second touchdown.
“We really played well across the board,” Murphy said. “We talked about the importance of this game in really doing a better job on the line of scrimmage, dominating the line of scrimmage. Our kids took it to heart.”
In the second quarter, two fourth-down conversions contributed to Harvard’s dominance. Booker picked up both attempts. The first conversion was followed by a rare Crimson miscue involving Smith and Shelton-Mosley. The receiver stopped for a hook on the right sideline while Smith threw a streak route right into the hands of the waiting Leopards defender, Phillip Parham—effectively a good punt but a lost opportunity for Harvard.
When Lafayette needed fourth-down conversions of its own in the final quarter, it could not seize the chance. Sticking to its bread-and-butter, the Leopards went to the air on its first fourth down attempt, but O’Malley was pushed toward the sideline and threw the ball out of bounds. The Crimson spent nearly a minute-and-a-half before Lafayette got back the ball. Three plays later, the Leopards faced fourth-and-short again. Once more, the team went to the air, and Harvard knocked the pass to the turf.
Errant passes became a theme for the Lafayette offense. The Crimson captain Luke Hutton nearly picked off two throws, one off his foot and another while diving out of bounds. The second near-turnover led to a punt that was uncharacteristically shanked by Leopards freshman Michael Turk—the protege of Matt Turk, a former NFL punter.
The miscue gave Harvard the ball at its own 48 and three plays in, Booker successfully converted his second fourth down of the game. That plunge furthered a seven-minute drive that ended with a touchdown 38 seconds before halftime.
In both losses this season, the Crimson has gone into the locker room and failed to score in the second half. This Saturday, though, Harvard came back with a vengeance. Scott returned the kickoff for a touchdown, sophomore kicker Jake McIntyre nailed a 33-yard field goal, and Smith walked into the end zone on a reverse that left him wide open—the first rushing touchdown of his career.
Coming into the matchup, the Leopards were averaging 12.8 points per game and just 8.7 rushing yards, second-to-last among all FCS teams. Despite this ground-game drought, the team must have watched the Crimson’s film against Cornell because Lafayette put the ball on the ground early.
While Harvard faltered against the Big Red’s offense, The Leopards could not get anything going. On the first drive, Lafayette opted to run twice, and the two rushes for two yards apiece catalyzed a shift back to its normal pass-heavy offense. The Leopards would run the ball 11 more times for eight more yards.
“We were hungry,” junior linebacker Charlie Walker said. “We didn’t put out our best [at Cornell].... We’re going to come out even stronger and hungrier to show other teams that we’re not going to let something like that happen again.”
The Crimson, which had the third-most penalties among Ivy League teams coming into the game, did not earn a single yellow flag until midway through the third quarter. Harvard will need to maintain similar discipline in coming weeks as the team has only Ancient Eight rivals left on the schedule.
“We were just looking to get our identity back,” said senior defensive tackle Stuart Johnson. “These next couple home games are extremely important. We can’t stress enough to the rest of the team how important these games are in terms of, one, winning the Ivy League championship but, two, just earning respect.”
—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at email@example.com.