Harvard 35, Lafayette 16
Harvard’s 35-16 win at the Stadium on Saturday produced some surprises.
Five and a half minutes into the game, the Crimson lined up for a 20-yard field goal, but David Mothander was not the kicker. Mothander, a senior, has been the regular place-kicker since the start of his freshman season.
Backup kicker Andrew Flesher appeared set for his first field goal try, but the play was a fake. The holder, quarterback Michael Pruneau, instead threw a short pass to tight end Cameron Brate to give Harvard its first points of the afternoon.
The final quarter brought more trickery. With the game in hand, 28-3, the Crimson lined up in punt formation at midfield, but the snap went to linebacker Eric Medes, who ripped off a 37-yard gain.
That surprised almost everyone in the Stadium, including head coach Tim Murphy and his staff. The fake punt was a new addition to the playbook, Murphy said later, and was not meant to be used at a time when Harvard held a 25-point lead. He said the punting team had its signals mixed.
Less surprising was the outcome of the game. Lafayette (1-5, 1-0 Patriot League) is struggling this season. “We are just a 1-5 football team trying to figure some things out,” head coach Frank Tavani said at a postgame press conference.
Harvard (5-0, 2-0 Ivy League) now leads Lafayette, 14-3, in a series begun in 1966. And Crimson teams have won 15 straight at the Stadium.
Coach Tavani said he and his team had endured a “long and aggravating” bus ride from Easton, Pennsylvania, on Friday, arriving too late to work out on Stadium turf. They also endured a long and aggravating afternoon on Saturday, as Crimson defenders forced four turnovers and held hard-running tailback Ross Scheuerman to 63 yards on 21 carries, an average of just three yards per carry.
The turnovers included a fumble recovery by Eric Medes and interceptions by linebacker Connor Sheehan, safety Chris Splinter, and cornerback D.J. Monroe.
The first interception came at the start of the second quarter, when Sheehan snared a tipped pass inside the Crimson 20-yard line. His 35-yard broken-field runback set the stage for an eight-play scoring drive, finished off by a three-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Paul Stanton Jr.
Sheehan, a junior, fractured an elbow in the third period and is probably lost for the season.
Medes’s recovery of a fourth-period fumble, forced by cornerback Norman Hayes, set up the day’s quickest and most spectacular score. Taking over inside his own 20, quarterback Pruneau moved the Crimson to midfield with a 37-yard pass to receiver Ricky Zorn. On the next play he lofted the ball to receiver Andrew Fischer for a 50-yard pass play that upped Harvard's lead to 28-3.
With less than three minutes to play, the Crimson got its final score of the game on a 15-yard pass from Pruneau to Cam Brate.
A senior who once played under Friday night lights as a high-school star in Plano, Texas, Pruneau was making his second varsity start in place of regular quarterback Conner Hempel. Hempel hyperextended a knee in a triple-overtime win at Holy Cross two weeks ago.
Pruneau completed 17 of 29 pass attempts for 263 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked four times, but was not intercepted.
Paul Stanton was the game’s top rusher, with 113 yards and two three-yard touchdowns on 21 carries.
David Mothander, Harvard’s all-Ivy place-kicker, sat out the game with a strained quadriceps. His replacement, Flesher, missed a 34-yard field goal try in the second period, but boomed three of his kickoffs out of the Lafayette end zone.
Lafayette trailed, 14-3, at halftime. Late in the game, with the Crimson’s defensive subs on the field, reserve quarterback Drew Reed connected on touchdown passes of 25 and 43 yards.
In earlier meetings with Ivy League teams, Lafayette had lost by a touchdown to Pennsylvania, the league’s defending champion, and had been outpointed by Princeton, 42-26.
Elsewhere: Princeton crushed Brown in a night game, 39-17, and Penn defeated Columbia, 21-7. In nonconference games, Yale lost to Fordham, 52-31, Cornell lost to Monmouth, 48-23, and Dartmouth lost to Bucknell, 17-14.
Next week: Princeton (4-1, 2-0 Ivy) comes to the Stadium for a 1 p.m. game. In a furious fourth-quarter rally at Princeton Stadium a year ago, the Tigers scored 29 points in the last 11 minutes to upset the previously unbeaten Crimson, 39-34. The devastating defeat broke a 14-game winning streak, and scrambled the race for the Ivy trophy.
Harvard, Princeton, and Penn, each unbeaten in league play, are currently tied for first place in the standings.
The Harvard-Lafayette scoring:
Lafayette 0 3 0 13 — 16
Harvard 7 7 7 14 — 35
The season so far:
Harvard 42, San Diego 20
Harvard 41, Brown 23
Harvard 41, Holy Cross 35
Harvard 34, Cornell 24
Harvard 35, Lafayette 16