A week after staging a stirring 21-point second-half comeback against Brown, the Crimson needed no such heroics to dispose of Lafayette (3-2) on Saturday, comfortably cruising to a 38-23 victory.
Once again, Harvard relied on sophomore running back Clifton Dawson to carry the load. Dawson rushed for 172 yards—giving him nine straight contests in which he has broken the century mark in yards gained on the ground. The sophomore also scored another three touchdowns, bringing his season total to nine through just three games. The record for rushing touchdowns in a season for the Crimson is 13.
“He’s a solid back,” said Lafayette coach Frank Tavani of Dawson, who transferred to Harvard from Northwestern after redshirting his freshman year. “The guy didn’t go to Northwestern because he wasn’t a I-A player. He’s obviously a I-A player playing at the I-AA level.”
But it was captain Ryan Fitzpatrick—who finished with 218 yards passing, one touchdown and no interceptions—who broke the game wide open early in the second quarter. With the Crimson trailing 7-6 following Dawson’s first touchdown run and a missed extra point by freshman kicker Matt Schindel, Fitzpatrick drove the team down the field inside the Leopards’ five-yard line. Stopped for little gain on first-and-goal, the Harvard captain bullied his way through the line on second down for the score.
The quarterback then found sophomore receiver Corey Mazza alone in the end zone for the two-point conversion.
Just two minutes later, the Fitzpatrick-Mazza connection struck again. After the Crimson defense stopped Lafayette on three straight plays, the Leopards were forced to punt and Harvard took over on its own 39-yard line.
On the first play of the drive, Fitzpatrick felt pressure closing in around him and rolled left out of the pocket, freezing the Lafayette secondary which attempted to protect against the quarterback scramble. That gave Mazza all the time he needed to get behind the defense where Fitzpatrick found him all alone for a 61-yard touchdown pass—giving the Crimson a 21-7 lead.
“We got the look that we wanted,” said Fitzpatrick of the long touchdown pass to Mazza. “I got rushed a little bit in the pocket and as I started rolling out the corner saw me rolling and slowed up a little bit which gave Corey Mazza the extra step and he was able to get behind the defense.”
Harvard controlled the tempo of the game throughout, never letting up on the Leopards. Dawson added two more short rushing touchdowns in the second half, and with the Crimson able to take care of the ball, Lafayette never had a chance to make up ground.
“The thing that we’ve done best offensively obviously is ball security,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “We have one turnover in three games and when you have that type of ball security you’re going to win a lot of football games.”
Playing without their two biggest receivers—Joe Ort and Archie Fisher, who were both out due to injury—the Leopards struggled trying to play catch up.
The speed option offense, which had proven effective in the Leopards’ first four games, took a hit when starting tailback Jonathan Hurt left the game in the second quarter with a triceps contusion. And as Harvard extended its lead, Lafayette was forced into a more traditional single back offense.
The Crimson defense took advantage of the Leopards’ need to put the ball in the air and came away with three interceptions. Senior linebacker Sean Tracy picked off two passes, the second of which came in the fourth quarter as Lafayette was driving into Harvard territory and trying to chip away at the lead.
With just under eight minutes to go in the game and the Crimson holding on to a 35-23 lead, the Leopards appeared to have a productive driving going—moving into Harvard territory. But on a first-and-10 from the Harvard 40, junior linebacker Matt Thomas and sophomore tackle Michael Berg combined on a 9-yard sack.
On the ensuing second-and-19, Tracy read the play perfectly and intercepted quarterback Brad Maurer’s pass over the middle at the 28-yard line, ending the drive and any realistic hope Lafayette had of staging a comeback.