The Crimson didn’t shut down Lafayette’s option-based offense the way it had Holy Cross’ in its 35-0 shutout two weeks ago. The Leopards had control over time of possession, particularly in the first half when they dominated 20:08 to 9:52.
But just when it seemed as though Lafayette was about to draw within striking distance, the Crimson defense would step up and turn the tables.
“I think our defense played some very opportunistic defense,” Murphy said.
The defense was calm and disciplined, waiting for one of the two Leopard quarterbacks to make a mistake. While the play-action fooled occasionally, for the most part a trio of white Harvard jerseys trailed the Lafayette quarterback from snap to harried pass to turf. Odds were that harried pass was going to eventually land in the arms of a Crimson defender. And three times during the game, that’s exactly what happened.
“Certainly most or probably all of the games that I’ve been involved in during my five years as head coach when we take it away more than we give it away we win,” said Lafayette coach Frank Tavani. “So today we gave it away and didn’t take it away and so that was the difference in the game.”
The poster boy for well-timed turnovers was senior defensive back Sean Tracy, who twice killed the Leopards’ momentum by perfectly anticipating quarterback Brad Maurer.
On the first series, Maurer alternately handed off to tailback Jonathan Hurt and carried the ball himself for short but effective gains. There were no big plays, but Lafayette moved without difficulty down into Harvard territory, looking for all the world as if it would draw first blood.
But the Crimson defense was not unnerved by the four first downs it had allowed. And on the eighth play from scrimmage, Tracy took one look at the offense and saw his chance.
From the Crimson 29-yard line, Maurer passed the ball out to Hurt in the left flat. Before the ball was within three feet of the intended receiver, however, Tracy had swooped in to dive, grab and roll to the ground with the pick.
“I had the running back out to the flat and I knew that’s where he was going, and I knew the quarterback was going to throw to him,” Tracy said. “[Defensive coordinator Kevin] Doherty told me on Friday when we were going through films. He said, ‘Sean, he’s not even going to see you coming,’ and he was exactly right.””
The Leopards’ drive was nipped in the bud and the momentum swung in Harvard’s favor. Three-and-a-half minutes later, the Crimson had a 6-0 lead.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Harvard maintained an 18-point lead but Lafayette just wouldn’t go down quietly. The Leopards started at their own 49-yard line and drove in for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed but they still cut the score to 35-23. The Crimson punted on its next possession, and the ball was back in Lafayette hands.
Maurer opened the series with a 44-yard bomb down the left sideline to wide receiver Travis Hutson, burning sophomore cornerback Danny Tanner and getting the Leopards into Harvard territory. Linebacker Matt Thomas and defensive tackle Michael Berg responded by sacking Maurer for a nine-yard loss on the next play. Shaken, the Lafayette quarterback tried to recover on second-and-long by passing towards a cluster of receivers in the middle.
He wasn’t nearly precise enough. Instead of finding a maroon jersey, it was again Tracy who flew through the crowd to spear his second interception of the game. He darted through the stunned offensive linemen and down to the Leopards’ 36-yard line. The Crimson capped the ensuing drive with a field goal and a 38-23 lead that held for the remainder of the game.