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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Football crushes Columbia in home opener

Sophomore wide receiver Elijah Steward carries the ball past Columbia defenders. (Photo by Rick Smith for GoLeopards)

In an opportunity for the football team (2-1 overall) to bounce back following last week’s blowout loss against Duke, the Leopards took care of business versus the Columbia Lions (0-1), winning 24-3 at Fisher Stadium.

Saturday, which was Lafayette’s first home game of the season, was described as a “must-win game” by sophomore running back Jamar Curtis.

“It was very important,” Curtis said. “The goal is always to win, and last week’s loss fueled us more. We had to protect our home turf and we did.”

Curtis, who ran for his second 100-yard game of the season, led the Maroon and White offense in a game where it racked up nearly 400 total yards. Sophomore quarterback Dean DeNobile churned out a good performance in his second start under center as well, passing for 149 yards on 15-of-22 through the air. 

Curtis praised the Leopard offense, calling it a “big step up from last year.”

“It felt great,” Curtis said. “We’re continuously getting better and it’s all coming together this year. We always had the talent, it was only a matter of time.”

While the offense impressed on Saturday, Lafayette’s defense also stepped up. Coming off a game the previous week where it allowed 42 points, the Leopard defense held Columbia’s offense to three points all afternoon in its best defensive performance yet. Sophomore defensive back Byron Johnson said that the defensive game plan for the week was to “eliminate explosive plays.”

“Losing last week was one of the worst feelings we’ve had,” Johnson said. “We attacked practice every day this week and fixed the mistakes we made so we’d never get that feeling again.”

Columbia jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter on a 42-yard field goal from kicker Hugo Merry. This would remain Columbia’s only score in the game as the Leopards marched down the field on their next possession, stringing together a whopping 17-play, 85-yard drive that lasted over eight minutes, capped off by Curtis’ first touchdown of the afternoon, a six-yard score.

After exchanging punts, the Lions’ offense set up shop in Lafayette territory. Despite the unfavorable position, the Leopards’ defense held their own, forcing a turnover on downs and giving the ball right back to their offense.

“All around, the guys trusted each other,” Johnson said. “We knew that we could trust the guy to our left and to our right to do their assignment, and everyone played a big part in picking up the win.”

On the ensuing possession, the Leopards extended their lead with a 55-yard drive that ended with a one-yard DeNobile rushing touchdown off of a quarterback sneak. After another Columbia drive stalled, Lafayette headed into halftime up 14-3.

The offense showed no signs of slowing down in the second half. Facing third and 10 on their own 20-yard line, DeNobile found junior wide receiver Chris Carasia for a 30-yard gain, keeping the drive alive. Five plays later, Curtis ran for his second touchdown of the day, this time from 29 yards out.

With less than two minutes left in the third quarter, Johnson picked off Columbia quarterback Caden Bell for the Leopards’ only turnover of the game. Johnson said that his first collegiate interception “felt surreal.”

“We worked so hard, putting so much time into it,” Johnson said. “For it to finally show in the spotlight feels great.”

Immediately after, first-year kicker Jack Simonetta converted a field goal from 34 yards out, icing the game at 24-3 in the fourth quarter.

The Leopards brought home a handful of Patriot League weekly awards following the win. Simonetta received Special Teams Player of the Week honors after connecting on his first career field goal, as well as being a perfect 3-for-3 on extra attempts. First-year defensive lineman Jaylon Joseph, who recorded three tackles and a half sack, earned the Rookie of the Week title. Simonetta and Joseph join fellow first-year Michael Vaughn as weekly award winners thus far in 2023, showing how bright the future is for the football team. 

The Leopards will look to improve to 3-1 on the season as they take on the Monmouth Hawks next Saturday at Fisher Stadium.

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Dan Sullivan, Staff Sports Writer

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