Leopards suffer tough non-league loss to Harvard


The Lafayette football team fell short in the challenging game against the 19th-ranked Harvard (30-3) as they struggled with offensive turnovers. (Photo courtesy of GoLeopards.com)

By Charlie Berman, Staff Writer

The Lafayette Leopards took the field in historic Harvard Stadium on Oct. 16 to play the Harvard Crimson on the road in Cambridge, MA. The Maroon and White, coming off their first win in conference play, looked to capitalize on their momentum on both sides of the ball but fell short in the 30-3 loss.

The Leopards put together a dominating performance two weeks ago, on Oct. 9, with a 27-0 rout of the Bucknell Bison on Fisher Field. The Leopard’s positive shift in play has been especially noticeable in offense. With the first three games averaging slightly over 10 points per game, the Leopards scored over 20 points per game for the past three games behind freshman quarterback Ah-Shaun Davis.

“We have played some tough teams,” head coach John Garrett said. “One from the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) and two ranked in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) top 25. We feel that we have stepped up to the challenge so far this year.”

Harvard set the tone for the game early. They took the lead on the first drive and never looked back. The Maroon and White offense could not continue their success as they turned the ball over three times and the defense had no answer for Harvard’s running game.

The Crimson wasted little time getting on the board first, running a five-play 77-yard drive. The drive lasted under two minutes and forced the Leopards on their heels early. Lafayette had no response, going three-and-out and only gaining two yards on its first drive.

“Harvard is a team that is big, strong and fast at every position,” Garrett added. “You know we didn’t help ourselves because we turned the ball over and gave up some big plays. We needed to play better to make it a more competitive game.”

Harvard tacked on a field goal with 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter to take a 10-0 lead into the second frame. On Harvard’s opening drive in the second quarter, sophomore linebacker Preston Forney managed his first career interception. The Leopards capitalized on the momentum, going 49-yards on eight plays and getting a 33-yard field goal by freshman kicker Micah Petit to cut the deficit to seven.

“It was great to get my first pick of the season, just wish it was along with a win also,” Forney said. “Our defense had really good moments but didn’t stay consistent enough. As a defense, I think we made some small errors that led to big plays. The good news is that these errors have nothing to do with talent level and are very correctable.”

From there, the game quickly went downhill for the Leopards as the team surrendered a touchdown to the Crimson on the ensuing drive to push the deficit to 17-3. The Crimson tacked on another field goal before the end of the half to make it 20-3.

The second half started poorly for the Leopards who coughed up the kickoff resulting in Harvard taking possession. It was the Leopard’s second turnover of the day and resulted in another Harvard field goal, pushing their lead to 23-3.

On the ensuing Leopards possession, Davis threw his second interception of the day which Harvard converted into a touchdown five plays later. The score remained 30-3 for the rest of the game.

There were many bright spots in the loss as senior linebacker Billy Schaefer picked off his Patriot League-leading third pass of the season. Junior linebacker Marco Olivas led the team with 16 tackles, putting him in second in the Patriot League. On the offensive side of the ball, Davis continued to progress as he connected on 19 of 37 passes for 187 yards.

The Leopard’s weak spot was within the offense with the turnovers and in the running game.

In the past two games, Lafayette had not committed a turnover. This changed when they committed three against Harvard. These turnovers stalled offensive drives and put the defense in a precarious state as Harvard was able to cash in on them for 10 points.

The rushing attack also posed a significant issue. With an offensive line down multiple starters with another injuring his shoulder halfway through the game, the Harvard defense was able to get major pressure on Davis as well as quell any hopes of a rushing attack. Lafayette finished with -22 rushing yards on the game as Davis was sacked 9 times for a combined loss of 63 yards.

There is hope going forwards for the Leopards, however, as they have a bye week to help get healthy for the back part of their schedule.

“There were some good things we did as a team and can definitely build on them going into the rest of Patriot League play,” Forney said. “It’s going to be great to get a bunch of our guys back. It’s great timing going into the rest of Patriot League play, and I think all of those guys will make a great impact on the game.”

“The bye week is a great opportunity for us to get healthy, and then also individually and as a team,” Garrett added. “We’ll be in a good spot to begin this four-game stretch of Patriot league opponents. Our team is motivated, and everything that we want to accomplish, a Patriot League championship, is ahead of us.”

Harvard concluded Lafayette’s out-of-conference schedule, leaving the Leopards with four Patriot League games left to play. The Leopards will travel to Washington to play Georgetown on Oct. 30 at 12:30 p.m.