Harvard improves to 5-0 by beating Lafayette, 35-16

Harvard is off to a 5-0 start for the second straight year, courtesy of a convincing but fairly sloppy 35-16 nonleague win over Lafayette Saturday afternoon before 8,185 at the Stadium.

Now the focus turns back to the Ivy, and the season-closing five-game gauntlet through the Ancient Eight.

A year ago, the Crimson’s title hopes took their first hit in Princeton, N.J., with a 39-34 loss in which captain Bobby Schneider suffered a season-ending injury.

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The Tigers (3-1, pending Saturday night’s game at Brown) are in town next Saturday.

What they will face is a resilient, rugged squad that has been efficient and prolific, pulling out victories the past two weeks minus its starting quarterback, junior Conner Hempel (knee), and the last four without lead tailback Zach Boden (knee).

But once again, depth is a strength.

On Saturday, making his second start, senior Michael Pruneau (17 of 29, 263 yards) fired three touchdown passes. Sophomore Paul Stanton (21 carries, 113 yards) continued to impress with his quick feet, shifty moves, and hard running, converting a pair of 3-yard bursts into scores. And all-Ivy tight end Cam Brate hauled in a pair of TD passes.

Defensively, the Crimson picked off three passes (eight for the season), including a pretty fingertip snare from safety Chris Splinter just before the half, and limited tailback Ross Scheuerman (109.3 yards per game) to 63 yards on 21 hard rushes.

The Crimson took the game’s first possession 72 yards on 15 plays for a 7-0 lead, turning to a bit of trickery on the 15th.

With reserve kicker Andrew Flesher lining up a 20-yard field goal attempt, Pruneau pulled out of the hold to toss a 2-yard scoring pass to Brate, who had drifted uncovered over the goal line. Pruneau’s best strike, however, was a 17-yard back-shoulder laser to senior Ricky Zorn (four catches, 103 yards) on the right sideline to the Lafayette 43.

Harvard doubled the margin early in the second quarter, capitalizing on a red-zone pick off the fingertips of Lafayette’s Demetrius Dixon by Connor Sheehan, and the ensuing nifty 37-yard return from the junior linebacker.

Eight plays later, and taking advantage of an interference call (Dion King knocking over Zorn at the goal line), the Crimson punched in a 3-yard run by Stanton for a 14-0 cushion.

The Leopards (1-5) answered with a 14-play, 68-yard drive, but only came away with 3 points, a 31-yard field goal from Ryan Gralish.