At 4–0–1, Lafayette was set to meet the Penn Quakers on October 24 at Franklin Field. Penn, coached by George Washington Woodruff, was in the midst of a 34-game winning streak and was only guaranteeing Lafayette $150 for a game that would net $10,000. As an intense media war surrounded the game, Lafayette enrolled Fielding H. Yost, a tackle from West Virginia, who Lafayette had defeated in the final game of their series on October 17. With Yost, Charles Rinehart, and the inventor of the football helmet George Barclay on the field, Lafayette won 6–4. It was the first victory of a "small school" over one of the Big Four (Harvard–Yale–Penn–Princeton). Penn won its next 31 games. Lafayette closed its season with an 18–6 win over Navy. Following the season, Lafayette was recognized as national champions along with Princeton (10–0–1) and was the first national champion outside the Harvard–Yale–Princeton–Penn rotation prevalent during that era. However, absent from their 1896 schedule was the annual rivalry with Lehigh, which cancelled two games scheduled for November in protest over the eligibility and amateur status of Barclay, who had played professional baseball the previous summer.