HARVARD– When Harvard lost running back Christian Kramer in Week 3 to a shoulder injury, it looked like a huge blow to the Hornets' offense.
Kramer was leading the area in rushing at the time, coming off a 200-yard performance, and was the focal point of Harvard's offense.
The Hornets, though, took it as a challenge, and used Kramer's absence to develop depth in their offense that is now paying off in the playoffs, including in Friday night's 56-16 win over King.
"We've had the same philosophy throughout, we just improved every week," receiver Justin Nolen said. "We're just doing what we want to do: run the ball hard, play-action, and work with what the offense gives us."
Fullback Jose Mejia and running back Ben Platt helped fill the void in the backfield, with quarterback Peyton Schneider and Nolen used more. Now the Hornets offense is more than one player, with Mejia's punishing inside runs, Platt coming out of the backfield for passes, and Schneider and Nolen perfecting their play-action passes to help complement Kramer's outside runs.
Kramer scored on the first play of the game, taking a 58-yard run off tackle, and Schneider and Nolen hooked up for a 30- and 42-yard touchdowns in the second quarter.
Kramer finished with 136 yards on seven carries and Mejia added 40 yards on eight carries in two quarters of play. Platt added 61 yards on six carries.
Harvard coach Tim Haak said it was the improvement of players like Mejia, wide receiver/defensive back Fernando Carrera and Schneider that have really made the difference this season.
"We knew coming in, for us to play at the level we're playing, we're going to have to have kids like Jose," Haak said. "We knew Christian was going to be there, but Peyton has improved so much.. A lot of kids from last year have really elevated their play."
One constant for the Hornets has been their offensive line of tackles Adam Freimund and Anthony Milanko, guards Dakota Trebes and Juan Carbajal, and center Kyle Peterson. The group helped pave the way for 282 yards on the ground.
Trebes said the line takes being the tone setter for the offense very seriously.
"You are bascially the heart of the offense," Trebes said. "You have to get going or you don't have anything."
After starting as a sophomore last season, Schneider said he is far more comfortable leading the offense this season, finishing 6-for-8 for 93 yards. Schneider said his arm strength has improved, and he has more trust in his line and recievers.
"Last year, it was new for me. Making the reads was a lot different," Schneider said. "Having that experience was a huge help."