Casting a grin from ear to ear, Damani Wilson was in a bit of an unfamiliar setting, seated with his back to the fireplace in the lounge of the Murr Center for the postgame presser, alongside his coach, Tim Murphy, and Harvard teammates Nnamdi Obukwelu and Rich Zajeski.
The 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound junior is not averse to being in the spotlight — he is the reigning 60-meter indoor champion in the Heptagonal Championships — but he entered Saturday’s matchup against Columbia with three carries in the first seven games. Zajeski, a 5-11, 195-pound senior, had 17 total rushes.
And yet the two reserves were proudly soaking in their moment after another convincing victory for a Crimson program that has ridden its depth, physical dominance, and offensive precision to the top of the Ivy League standings.
Harvard rang up 42 first-half points on a youthful Lions program still finding its way under first-year coach Pete Mangurian, including a program-record 35 points in the second quarter on the way to a 69-0 romp before 5,838 at the Stadium. (The previous mark came on Oct. 13, 1973, when Joe Restic’s club lit up Columbia for 29 points in one quarter in a 55-0 win).
One of nine Harvard players to tally a touchdown, Zajeski juked in from 5 yards in the third quarter, pushing the margin to 55-0, and Wilson showcased his sprinter’s speed with the final two scores of the day, from 45 and 43 yards.
“We have a lot of depth on the O-line, even with all our injuries, and it was a matter of our line wearing down the other team, and being able to create big holes,’’ said Wilson, who finished with a game-high 121 yards on eight carries. “I got a lot of great looks, and tried to take advantage.’’
“We know that he is fast, and he showed it today,’’ said Murphy, acknowledging that both Wilson and Zajewski (12 carries, 65 yards) might start on a number of teams in the Ivy League.
In their most lopsided victory since a 69-0 crushing of Coast Guard in 1946, the Crimson (7-1, 4-1) racked up 585 yards on 80 plays, blitzed Columbia (2-6, 1-4) with 21 points in a 45-second span in the second quarter — capped by a 15-yard pick-6 from junior linebacker Connor Loftus — and limited the Lions to minus-19 yards rushing on 21 attempts.
Harvard will head to Franklin Field in Philadelphia next Saturday to battle Penn for sole possession of first place.
“Every year, the [Ivy League race] goes through Penn,’’ said Murphy.
And in senior quarterback Colton Chapple, he has a poised and confident leader to cut through any defensive scheme.
His first series included a 9-yard sack and a mishandled snap, but Chapple (13 of 18, 195 yards in one half) finished off the next three possessions with scoring tosses. The first, a 12-yard loft to Ricky Zorn, was his 19th of the year, setting a season program record. He charged into the end zone on an 11-yard keeper in the second quarter.
“The guy he reminds me of is [former] Boise State quarterback [Kellen Moore], the lefty,’’ said Murphy. “We have had guys that have looked better in uniform, guys that maybe can bench press more. Whatever. But you put him in a game, wow, it’s just amazing how he can just get everything to play in slow motion. Just seemingly doing all the right things all the time.’’
Harvard did not do many things wrong on the other side of the ball either, registering eight sacks and picking off three passes, including a pair from junior safety Chris Splinter.
The Crimson defensive front is “way better than what I have seen in this league before,’’ said Mangurian, who led Cornell back to respectability from 1998 to 2000. “Just superior.’’
Summing up a performance that illustrated the separation between the two programs, Mangurian said “disappointing is an understatement.’’ He conceded that the stage was “too big’’ for his Lions after they had halted an 11-year losing streak against Yale last week, 26-22.
“Our day will come, we’re just not there yet.’’