The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Football impresses in debut, holds off Sacred Heart for second straight year

Sophomore running back Jamar Curtis evades a Sacred Heart defender. (Photo by George Vikranis for GoLeopards)

The Leopards started off the year strong with another defensive showing against Sacred Heart, earning a 19-14 win. 

The offense was led by sophomore runningback Jamar Curtis who rushed for 181 yards on 19 carries (career highs in both) and tallied a touchdown early in the game. On the first possession of Lafayette’s 2023 season, the Leopards drove for 86 yards on eight plays. Curtis had five touches for 71 yards and capped it off with a 28-yard touchdown run.

According to Curtis, the minimal offense performance last year had an impact on the team’s approach this year.

“We know we have a lot of talent on offense,” Curtis said. “To bring that intensity to the game and prove ourselves was all we wanted to do.”

Curtis said that the team was “feeling great” after its first offensive drive.

“We came out and scored a touchdown, which is all you can ask for,” he said. “It gave us a lot of confidence.”

After a fumble later in the first quarter, Sacred Heart took over at the Leopards’ 40-yard line looking to capitalize on the mistake. Lafayette’s defense would show why it is one of the best in the Patriot League with back-to-back sacks by first-year Michael Vaughn and junior Phillip Peiffer forcing a field goal attempt that went wide right. This ended the first quarter at 7-0 in favor of Lafayette.

Quick into the second quarter, sophomore quarterback Ryan Schuster faked a handoff to junior Jermaine Conyers and ran the ball in for a four-yard touchdown. After a missed extra point, the Leopards led 13-0. The Pioneers later answered with a 17-yard touchdown run from Jalen Madison just before the end of the half. 

Sophomore defensive back Taylor Smallwood said that the team knew defense was going to be a challenge.

“We knew that they were going to come out with some force because of the loss that they took last year,” Smallwood said, “[The coaches] kept reiterating that because of the loss they took last year they were going to come out and try and dominate us. We just had to take a stand.” 

Other than a second missed Pioneer field goal, there was not much action through the third quarter. Sacred Heart, however, struck first in the fourth quarter with an 11-yard touchdown. After the extra point, The Pioneers took a 14-13 lead.

After some personnel changes, sophomore quarterback Dean DeNobile and junior running back Nahjee Adams led the Leopards on a drive down the field that ended with a one-yard touchdown by Adams, his first career score. Deciding to go for two, DeNobile completed a pass to score, but the play was flagged for offensive pass interference. The Leopards tried again, but an incomplete pass left the score at 19-14.

When a 47-yard return from Sacred Heart’s returner was barely saved from the endzone by senior kicker Jakob Trestik, the Pioneers were looking to answer with a score of their own. Some key first-down pickups put Sacred Heart at the four-yard line knocking on the Leopard’s door. 

After three key stops forcing fourth down, Smallwood made the play of the game with an interception in the endzone. Smallwood knelt down, forcing a touchback and giving Lafayette the ball with 1:40 left on the clock.

“There was a mix of two plays that we wanted to call and luckily our coaches called the right one,” Smallwood said, “We knew that we had to make a stop again.”

A 47-yard run from Curtis sealed the deal, and Lafayette chalked up the first game in the win column.

Curtis sees an increase in the team’s confidence in post-win practices. 

“It’s carried over great,” Curtis said. “It gave us the confidence we needed as an offense because now we see we can put up points and run the ball.”

A good week of practice isn’t the only reward the team got from the win, as first-year Michael Vaughn received Patriot League Football Rookie of the Week. This title came after a two-sack performance in his very first game in a Leopards uniform. With many young stars emerging on defense such as Vaughn and Smallwood, Lafayette looks to be a defense that will be feared in the years to come.

The Leopards will head down to Durham, North Carolina next week to take on the Duke Blue Devils. This is the first time in more than a decade that Lafayette’s football team has faced an opponent ranked in the AP Top 25. 

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