The approach for Josh Boyd and his Harvard teammates is pretty simple.
“The morale of this team is pretty high,” said the senior captain after the Crimson churned out a rather convincing 35-16 nonleague victory over Lafayette Saturday in front of 8,185 at the Stadium, with thousands more crammed along the banks of the Charles next door to cheer on rowers, young and old.
“Right now, it is one day at a time. We don’t look too far ahead . . . We had some fun today, because we put in so much work.”
Off to a 5-0 start for the second straight year (2-0 in the Ivy League), Harvard now turns its focus to the rigors of a season-closing five-game gauntlet through the Ancient Eight that kicks off with Princeton making a visit next Saturday. Harvard has won 15 in a row at home. The Tigers (4-1, 2-0) tuned up by burying Brown with 39 unanswered points in a 39-17 win in Providence.
A year ago, the Crimson absorbed their first loss at Princeton, 39-34, in which captain and linebacker Bobby Schneider broke his arm late in the fourth quarter.
On Saturday, another heady defender, junior linebacker Connor Sheehan, suffered a fractured left elbow making a tackle along the sideline in the third quarter, ending his season.
One quarter earlier, Sheehan’s 35-yard, tackle-breaking return after he intercepted a tipped pass set up Harvard’s second touchdown, a 3-yard burst by sophomore Paul Stanton for a 14-0 cushion.
“Very, very disappointing,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy of Sheehan’s injury. “He is a kid that has really maxed out his ability. He has carved out a very unique niche on this team.”
The Crimson, however, have coped pretty well with adversity this year.
For the second straight week, senior Michael Pruneau stepped in for junior Conner Hempel (hyperextended knee) at quarterback and again was efficient, completing 17 of his 29 aerials for 263 yards and three touchdowns.
His first TD was a bit unconventional.
With reserve kicker Andrew Flesher lining up a 20-yard field goal attempt, the 15th play on the game’s first series, the 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound Pruneau pulled out of the hold to toss a 2-yard pass to tight end Cam Brate, who had drifted uncovered over the goal line.
“Probably the easiest touchdown I have had here,” said the 6-5 Brate, who would add another, a 15-yarder in the fourth quarter for Harvard’s final score.
Tailback Zach Boden (knee) has been out since the opener at San Diego.
But Stanton, a shifty and determined 5-9, 190-pound sophomore, continued to produce, slashing his way for a game-high 113 yards and two scores on 21 carries.
On the other side, the stout Harvard defense limited Lafayette junior Ross Scheuerman (109.2 yards per game entering Saturday) to 63 yards on 21 rushes.
The Crimson also forced four turnovers — raising their season total to 16 — punctuated by three interceptions against a Lafayette passing attack that has struggled since junior QB Zach Zweizig went down in Week 3 at Penn with a concussion.
“It all started with defense today,” said Murphy, who singled out the five seniors in his secondary that are “in synch”: corners D.J. Monroe (team-high 7 tackles, 1 interception) and Brian Owusu, and safeties Reynaldo Kirton, Jaron Wilson, and Chris Splinter (a nifty fingertip interception), along with junior corner Norman Hayes.
“We continue to turn the ball over and make some bad choices,” said 14-year Lafayette coach Frank Tavani, whose team will return to the Bay State next week to take on Holy Cross.
“We are just a 1-5 football team trying to figure some things out. “
Harvard has learned to lean on its depth, including in the kicking game. Senior David Mothander, one of the Ivy’s best, sat with a quad strain. “We have to get him healthy,” said Murphy. “He’s a weapon.”
Though Flesher was wide right on a 34-yard attempt just before the half, he boomed his kickoffs all afternoon.
“Right now, the strength of our team is resilience,” said Murphy. “We are not dominant in any one phase. But we play hard, guys seem to step up when guys get hurt, and we find a way to win.”
Boyd, who racked up seven tackles, including a sack, said “going into the Ivy League stretch, we know that we are going to have to step up.”
And this season, more than ever, it’s about the next opponent.
“There is probably more parity in the Ivy this year than any of the last 10 years,” said Murphy. “Every team can beat you if you don’t play extremely well, and you don’t take care of the football, and you’re not particularly healthy. One day at a time. Tomorrow is Sunday, and we start to prepare for a real big game [against Princeton].”Craig Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.