Truly loving the love of the game
In Division III, we like to say we “play for the
love of the game.” It’s pretty much our
If you've already booked your hotel room in Salem, penciled your team in for seven wins or at least have a guaranteed W against that cream puff on Homecoming, the phrase sort of rolls off the tongue.
Try being the cream puff.
In 2004, Heidelberg could hardly score, averaging 7.2 points per game while getting shut out four times and never scoring more than 14.
In 2005, the Student Princes doubled their offensive output but gave up 53 points per game, including 46 or more eight times and 61 or more five times.
In 2006, Heidelberg lost by seven, 14, 15 and 16, making enough progress only to enhance the agony of defeat, with players able to pinpoint certain missed plays that could have changed the tide.
Despite not having won once in their college careers, 10 Student Prince seniors came back for more.
Talk about playing for the love of the game.
Last Saturday, Heidelberg beat Oberlin 37-26, winning for the first time since it beat Marietta 21-13 on Oct. 4, 2003, and snapping a 36-game losing streak that predated anyone in the program. The Student Princes got to experience victory, and everything that goes with it -- classmates rushing the field, a ringing of the Victory Bell, an old Heidelberg tradition revived, and the sheer joy of having something to smile about on Saturday night.
“To be able to go in the next day with confidence, going with your head held high walking around campus, was just great,” said fullback Joe Richardson, one of those 10 seniors.
The story of those seniors, the last remaining from a class of at least 90 that believed it was going to turn the program around a bit sooner, is intriguing. Richardson, linebackers Matt Nero, Chris Strawser and Brian Betlejewski, quarterbacks Steve West, Craig Schueffenecker and Bryan Prorok, defensive back Paul Miller, tight end Andy Donnelly and left tackle Phil Carr returned because they loved football for more than just the final score, and because of a man named Mike Hallett.
A two-time All-American defensive lineman who won a Stagg
Bowl with Mount Union in 1993, Hallett left his head coaching gig
at Thomas More to return to the OAC, where he believes “any
school is fixable if the college wants to be good.” Once he
determined he had the administration’s support, and saw the
success of other sports at Heidelberg as evidence he could recruit
there, he signed on with enthusiasm. That energy rubbed off on the
players whose dream of turning around a once-proud program had been
“From the first time we met him, he knew where we stood,” Richardson said. “There’s not a whole lot of confidence in the room when a team has gone 0-30 the last three years. But he talked to us as if we’d won 30 straight. … He said if we buy in, he can take us places we’ve never been.”
That appealed to the 10 competitors who saw it as their last chance to make the change they’d originally signed on for.
“It hasn’t been easy these last three years, not getting a win,” said West, the quarterback who was 15-for-18 for 210 yards and two TDs on Saturday. “We all kind of came in with the goal of turning the program around. Obviously, no one expects to go 0-30 their first three years.”
“It was pretty tough, to go through summer workouts and practices and not see the results,” Richardson said.
“I can remember tearing up after almost every loss, once I looked at the scoreboard and knew we were going to lose,” said Nero, who had nine tackles and an interception Saturday. “That’s the competitor in you. You think you can win every game.”
But that’s what has made West, Nero, Richardson and their teammates such special players. Giving up really wasn’t an option.
“When you’re losing, the easiest thing to do is to lay down and quit,” Nero said. “But there’s a reason we’re playing Division III football. It’s for the love of it.”
Even under previous coach Brian Cochran, who Hallett credits with helping stock the program with talent, the players said the game never lost its luster.
“Honestly,” West said, “it’s tough not winning. But the game of football was always fun.”
West recalls a creek bed flooding and players sliding
through it after practice. Nero remembers team movie nights on
Friday, and teammates ragging on each other during roll
“We’ve always been a close-knit group,” Nero said. “I’ve never had a problem with anybody, we’ve always had fun. That’s probably one of the reasons why I stuck it out.”
Every freshman class loses a majority of the players along the way, but to go from more than 90 to 10 is drastic, though not unexpected in the face of so little success.
“The guys who ended up staying around through all the adversity ended up becoming pretty close,” Richardson said. “We’re all pretty much best friends. We had to be, to push each other through it, knowing we were one of the ones who wanted to make a difference.”
Times weren’t always this rough on the small campus in Tiffin, Ohio. College Football Hall of Famer Paul Hoernemann compiled a 102-18-4 record there from 1946-59. Heidelberg also won the 1972 Stagg Bowl, when it was one of two small-college bowl games, the year before the first Division III football championship was played.
Hallett, a history major, had a natural curiousity about Hoernemann after he won an OAC award named after him as a player. Heidelberg’s history of success was a factor in wanting the job, as was the fact he had never strayed far from his home state (Thomas More is on the Ohio-Kentucky border).
In building his Student Princes staff, Hallett located a coach he’s worked with before and was coming off a stint as offensive coordinator for NFL Europe’s Cologne Centurions. Jeff Filkovski, who quarterbacked Allegheny to the 1990 Stagg Bowl championship, became Heidelberg’s coordinator.
The championship pedigree caught the eye of some players, but West said it was the coaching staff’s methods that built the belief.
“Honestly, with the coaches we have, even if I knew nothing about them, the way they work, the way they do business is what’s impressive,” he said.
“Thank goodness we won,” laughed Hallett. “That really gave credibility to the message we use. It probably bought me a bit more so they just don’t think I’m crazy.”
Richardson said Hallett’s overhaul of the program spilled over into the players’ personal lives, where they showed improvement in the classroom last spring. As a result, he said, professors began to take an interest in the team, and some shook hands with players at the bell-ringing.
West said the buzz built on campus all spring following Hallett’s hire, and Saturday’s crowd was one of the best he’d seen.
It got to witness feel-good moment after feel-good moment on a day when the Student Princes outgained Oberlin 239-65 in the first half, building a 24-7 lead. Even as Oberlin, itself six years removed from a 44-game losing streak, narrowed a gap as high as 24 points at times, it began to sink in that Heidelberg’s seniors were finally going to win.
“When that time was running down, I remember looking at the clock with 1:26 left, and it hit me,” said Nero, West’s roommate. “The first person I hugged was Steve.”
Richardson remembers almost the same moment, glancing at West and some of the other players, and seeing the knowing look on their faces.
“It’s almost indescribable,” he said. “We knew that we deserved this, that we worked so hard for it. It wasn’t really a relief. It just felt good. And not just for the players. For the whole Heidelberg campus, for our parents, who have suffered with us.”
Though the monkey is off their backs, Heidelberg’s players are well aware that there’s more to do. For one, there’s a game this week, which players began focusing on as soon as Saturday night, and eight more after that.
A 7 p.m. home game against John Carroll, where Cochran landed as defensive coordinator, is next, followed by a game at No. 11 Capital and home games against No. 1 Mount Union and No. 14 Baldwin-Wallace. Some of the most winnable games in the second half, all OAC contests, are on the road.
As Hallett says, “It’s a mixed blessing. You’re in the best conference in the country. At the same time, you’re in the best conference in the country.”
For Richardson, Nero, West and their classmates, the hard part is probably over. But as they talk of laying the groundwork for something they might not be around to enjoy, there are no regrets. Setting a tone for younger players to carry on is one of their top goals.
“Of course I want to enjoy my last nine games,” Richardson said. “But I want to prove something to a lot of the other schools in our conference. I want them to think ‘they really turned it around.’ I want them to think ‘Heidelberg, that was a tough team.’ I want them to wake up the next day sore.”
Streak watchHeidelberg’s victory put some new teams under the ‘longest losing streak’ heat lamp, and just in time for the return of this regular department to Around the Nation. At the repeated request of readers, I’ve also added longest regular-season win streaks and longest conference streaks to this list this season. Streaks tracked here must be a season (10 games) or longer. All research has been done by hand, so if you notice an omission, e-mail Around the Nation or use our feedback form.
Beyond Mount Union, which won last year’s national championship by going undefeated, and teams from the NESCAC, which do not participate in the playoffs, there weren’t many winning streaks longer than four games when the season began. Looking at every team that won seven or more games last season, all lost in the second half of the season or in the playoffs.
The longest current winning streaks in Division III:
Mount Union (24 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Ohio Northern, 21-14, Oct. 22, 2005; 1-0 in 2007)
Williams (14 consecutive wins, last loss at Trinity, Conn., 34-6, Oct. 1, 2005)
The longest regular-season and overall losing streaks are the same since playoffs are a non-factor for these teams. This group features a pair of young programs searching for win No. 1 and a school that nearly folded its football program. Lewis and Clark instead kept football, which I respect, but have gone the longest without a win after going 0-9 last season, 0-4 in an abbreviated 2005 and having lost their last five in 2004.
Longest current losing streaks:
Lewis and Clark (19 consecutive losses, last win vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 27-11, Oct. 9, 2004; 0-1 in 2007)
Becker (19 consecutive losses, no wins in program history; 0-2 in 2007)
Eureka (18 consecutive losses, last win vs. Concordia, Ill., 32-13, Sept. 24, 2005; 0-1 in 2007)
Hiram (17 consecutive losses, last win vs. Earlham, 7-2, Oct. 1, 2005; 0-10 in 2006)
LaGrange (12 consecutive losses, no wins in program history; 0-2 in 2007)
Of the 12 teams that had unbeaten regular seasons in 2006, three have already lost -- two of them twice. Mount Union, which had a 110-game regular-season win streak halted in 2005, is again near the top of the heap here.
Longest current regular-season winning streaks:
Occidental (27 consecutive wins, last loss at Chapman, 31-28, Sept. 11, 2004; 1-0 in 2007)
UW-Whitewater (21 consecutive wins, last loss vs. UW-La Crosse, 35-10, Nov. 13, 2004; 1-0 in 2007)
Curry (21 consecutive wins, including two NEFC title games, last loss at Maine Maritime, 28-21, Sept. 17, 2005; 2-0 in 2007)
Central (19 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Coe, 17-14, Sept. 17, 2005; 2-0 in 2007)
St. Norbert (19 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Monmouth, 28-20, Sept. 17, 2005; 2-0 in 2007)
Williams (14 consecutive wins, last loss at Trinity, Conn., 34-6, Oct. 1, 2005)
Mount Union (14 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Ohio Northern, 21-14, Oct. 22, 2005; 1-0 in 2007)
Wesley (14 consecutive wins, last loss at Brockport State, 47-0, Oct. 22, 2005; 2-0 in 2007)
Carnegie Mellon (12 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Thiel, 50-48, Nov. 12, 2005; 2-0 in 2007)
The boom time for great conference streaks has come to an end over the past two seasons, as Mount Union’s 100-game OAC streak fell in ’05, and Bridgewater’s 36-game ODAC streak and Linfield’s 27-game NWC streak were each halted last season. Trinity (Conn.)’s 31-game NESCAC streak was also stopped last season, as was Trinity (Texas)’s run of 13 SCAC championships in a row.
Longest current conference winning streaks:
Occidental (21 consecutive SCIAC wins, last loss vs. Redlands, 18-14, Oct. 11, 2003)
Curry (18 consecutive NEFC Bogan wins, not including Boyd Division or title games, last loss at Mass-Dartmouth, 18-13, Sept. 25, 2004)
St. Norbert (16 consecutive MWC wins, last loss vs. Monmouth, 28-20, Sept. 17, 2005)
Wilkes (16 consecutive MAC wins, last loss at Delaware Valley, 17-14, Sept. 17, 2005)
Central (15 consecutive IIAC wins, last loss vs. Coe, 17-14, Sept. 17, 2005)
UW-Whitewater (14 consecutive WIAC wins, last loss vs. UW-La Crosse, 35-10, Nov. 13, 2004)
Williams (14 consecutive NESCAC wins, last loss at Trinity, Conn., 34-6, Oct. 1, 2005)
Mary Hardin-Baylor (13 consecutive ASC wins, last loss at Howard Payne, 24-20, Oct. 8, 2005)
Mount St. Joseph (13 consecutive HCAC wins, last loss vs. Hanover, 40-34, Oct.1, 2005, 1-0 HCAC in 2007)
Mount Union (12 consecutive OAC wins, last loss vs. Ohio Northern, 21-14, Oct. 22, 2005)
Concordia, Wis. (10 consecutive IBFC wins, last loss vs. Lakeland, 17-14, Oct. 15, 2005)
Heidelberg isn’t completely in the clear yet; the Student Princes still haven’t won an OAC game in 33 tries. But they were never the standard-bearer here anyway. North Park’s CCIW ineptitude was sort of a shocker, since they haven’t had a winless season in the D3football.com era (since 1999). I’d never thought of the Vikings as a conference power, but I also hadn’t realized how long it had been since they eked out just one CCIW game. Hiram is further down the list, but has lost 37 of its past 38 NCAC games. And technically, it’s been longer since the last conference win for Lewis and Clark than Heidelberg, despite the difference in number of conference games played.
Longest current conference losing streaks:
North Park (47 consecutive CCIW losses, last win vs. Elmhurst, 31-21, Oct. 7, 2000)
Heidelberg (33 consecutive OAC losses, last win vs. Marietta, 21-13, Oct. 4, 2003)
Lewis and Clark (15 consecutive NWC losses, last win vs. Puget Sound, 25-23, Sept. 27, 2003)
Hiram (13 consecutive NCAC losses, last win vs. Earlham, 7-2, Oct. 1, 2005)
Wisconsin Lutheran (13 consecutive MIAA losses, last win vs. Tri-State, 37-14, Oct. 1, 2005)
Eureka (13 consecutive IBFC losses, last win vs. Concordia, Ill., 32-13, Sept. 24, 2005)
Cornell (12 consecutive IIAC losses, last win vs. Dubuque, 25-21, Oct. 15, 2005)
First and TenInitial reactions to Week 2 results:
1. When I realized Mary Hardin-Baylor had scored 51 on Christopher Newport, I cringed. Not just because of the margin either. The Crusaders don’t run up that kind of tally with a downfield passing attack. They plow straight ahead, and sure enough, there was an ugly (for the Captains) rushing total attached. UMHB rushed for 379 of its 500 total yards.
2. This week’s ‘Most Bang for the Buck’ nominee: Guilford 50, Methodist 47. That defense-optional shootout featured 17 more points than Waynesburg 45, Wooster 35, but still trails Kenyon 70, Grinnell 35 (105 points) for overall high game this season.
3. Speaking of the Quakers, quarterback Josh Vogelbach helped his team score 50 by throwing half as many TD passes (four) as last week. His 12 TD passes in two weeks are more than some quarterbacks will throw all season, and a few teams will score less than Guilford’s 120 so far. But since they’ve given up 73 points in two games, there’s a far more impressive margin out there. Dubuque has outscored Rockford and Wisconsin Lutheran 101-3 in its 2-0 start.
4. Revenge was in the air Saturday, as teams turned the tables on opponents that beat them last season. Among the notable flipflops: North Central, which already avenged its Concordia (Wis.) loss from last season in the playoffs, getting another victory over the Falcons. Wabash, a one-score loser to Franklin last year, beating the Grizzlies by two, and Redlands going up to then-No. 16 Whitworth and handling business. One result that didn’t flip: Cornell beat Alma 32-31 last season, and hung on for a 35-34 win this time around.
5. The season’s early weeks are prime road trip time. UW-Oshkosh playing Huntingdon in Alabama might be one of the oddest trips we’ll see all year. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps going to Kenyon marks the second week in a row in a row a California team traversed the nation (Menlo was at UW-Stout last week). Gustavus Adolphus also hosted Willamette, and won 34-25.
6. Word from Pacific Lutheran’s 48-17 win at Cal Lutheran was that the Kingsmen are as out of sorts as they seem. Cal Lutheran was held to minus-5 yards rushing on 24 attempts and went 1-for-12 on third down, among other things. Something is amiss in Thousand Oaks, and it’s got to be more than just missing transferred quarterback Danny Jones.
7. The best game it seemed no one was talking about featured a pair of playoff teams from last season. Dickinson scored and converted a two-point conversion to go up 27-24 with 47 seconds left, but Hobart set itself up for a 36-yard field goal with one second left that sent the game into overtime. Dickinson played defense first, didn’t give up a yard and forced a 42-yard miss from the kicker that just before had nailed the clutch kick from a few yards closer. Then Dickinson barely moved the ball, winning it in OT on a 37-yarder by Matt Stark.
8. Mike Hallett isn’t the only successful new coach. Albright’s John Marzka rebounded from a shaky Week 1 (a 42-12 loss at Salisbury) to defeat Kean 42-17, behind 447 passing yards from sophomore Tanner Kelly. That’s a 55-point swing. Other impressive turnarounds: Rockford (38-0 loss, 41-8 win; 71-point swing), Hampden-Sydney (1-point loss, 47-point win; 46-point swing) and Bethel, which beat Simpson 35-0 after losing to an IIAC rival thought to be about the same level, Buena Vista, 21-16.
9. Rivalries are always fun, and Coast Guard-Merchant Marine fits that bill. The Bears swiped the 27th annual Secretaries Cup game, 36-31, but the Mariners might have found a quarterback after freshman Derrick Ventre passed for 327 yards. Merchant Marine’s Geoff Troy, a 2005 All-American, was 1-for-3 on field goal attempts, leaving him 1-for-7 against Coast Guard and 28-for-35 against everyone else.
10. After a year in which it gained competitive balance but struggled overall, the ODAC is off to a fine start. The seven conference teams are 11-1, and the only team that’s lost, Hampden-Sydney, bounced back from its 17-16 defeat vs. Johns Hopkins to beat Gettysburg (itself a big winner in Week 1) 54-7. Catholic and Randolph-Macon both went to Ohio and took home wins against the NCAC’s Ohio Wesleyan and Denison. The only conferences off to comparable starts are the UAA (7-0) and the WIAC (10-2, with the losses to No. 4 St. John’s and Division II Missouri-Rolla)
Thoughts of a D3football.com voter, and a list of schools on the brink of the top 25:
This week’s top 25 doesn’t leave a whole lot to argue with, and teams are removing themselves from the brink of the top 25 faster than they are placing them there.
Mary Hardin-Baylor moved up to No. 3 after the CNU blowout, although personally I have them at No. 2 over UW-Whitewater. But the great thing is they’ll get to settle that in Whitewater later in the year, so no sense in making a fuss.
The OAC’s four teams in the top 14 is rather rare, and maybe one too many.
On the brink of my top 25 are Widener, Salisbury and Montclair State. All three of those teams can play their way in with a win over a ranked opponent this weekend: No. 7 Wesley, No. 20 Christopher Newport and No. 9 Springfield, respectively.
Gordon Mann’s take on this week’s contests of national significance:
It’s tough to imagine a Top 25 poll without Rowan, Hardin-Simmons or Linfield. Rowan has been in every poll since 2004 when the Profs started the season unranked. Hardin-Simmons narrowly dropped out of the rankings to close 2005 when they were the top team also receiving votes. And Linfield has been in every D3football.com Top 25 poll since it started in 2003.
But this week all three teams are treading closer to dropping out of the Top 25. No, that doesn’t mean the programs are on the decline and destined for mediocrity. But it does mean they need a win to maintain some of the national contender mojo they usually enjoy.
No. 19 Hardin-Simmons (0-1) at No. 15 Linfield (0-1): Despite the teams’ records, this game is still a rare treat at the Division III level -- a regular season game between distant, nationally ranked opponents. Hardin-Simmons has had a week to lick its wounds after No. 6 UW-La Crosse drubbed the Cowboys 47-21 in Texas. They have also had a week to choose a starting quarterback after using three in the opening season loss. Justin Feaster fared best (12-for-20, 157 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception).
As for Linfield, the Wildcats will try to establish a more balanced attack after Division II Western Oregon held them to six total rushing yards last week. How fast the Wildcats’ new offensive line comes together could be the difference between victory and defeat. Both teams need a win to regain some national contender mojo and, perhaps, stay in the Top 25 poll. D3football.com’s Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan will be on hand to take in the action.
No. 21 Rowan (0-1) at Wilkes (0-2): This is a similar story with two teams ranked in the preseason struggling to find their offensive identity. Like Hardin-Simmons, Rowan has had a week to recover from its opening loss to No. 20 Christopher Newport. Unlike the Cowboys, we don’t expect any uncertainty at quarterback where Joe Rankin will try to bounce back. Establishing a ground game would help the Profs, but that will be a tough task against the Colonels’ defense that has deserved a better fate than its 0-2 record. The opponents’ scoring drives this year -- 49 yards, 0 yards, 2 yards, 65 yards and 38 yards. Wilkes will try to regain some momentum leading into conference play.
Salisbury (2-0) at No. 20 Christopher Newport (1-1): Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, but Salisbury has blown out its first two opponents behind an offense that is returning most key players from last year. One quarterback, Ronnie Curley, is averaging 92.5 rushing yards per game with three touchdowns. The other quarterback, Bobby Sheahin, has thrown for two touchdowns with no interceptions. If the Sea Gulls find a way to upset the Captains in Newport News, it’ll be hard to keep their hot start a secret.
Buena Vista (1-0) at No. 18 Wartburg (1-0): Conference games get underway in the IIAC with one that should be better than last year’s records might suggest. Buena Vista was 4-6 in 2006 but came within a beaver’s whisker of beating 8-2 Wartburg last year. Then-freshman quarterback Nick Yordi scored the winning touchdown in the Knights’ 20-13 double-overtime victory over BVU. Here’s hoping the Beavers are eager for a fast start this season since they play title contenders Wartburg, Central and Coe in consecutive weeks.
Macalester (2-0) vs. Carleton (1-0): Aside from Macalester’s undefeated record, another relatively positive sign for Scots football is that they were mentioned in a popular national football column this week as the benefactors of a lopsided victory instead of the victims. Jacob McDonnell has shone as bright as a fancy orange Mac football jersey with 482 yards total offense (248 rushing, 216 receiving) and six touchdowns. Carleton is shooting for a good start of its own with a momentum a must leading into upcoming MIAC games against Bethel and No. 4 St. John’s.
Also keep an eye on: No. 2 UW-Whitewater at Division II St. Cloud State; Sul Ross State at No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor; NAIA Azusa Pacific at No. 6 UW-La Crosse; No. 9 Springfield at Montclair State; No. 22 Carnegie Mellon at Hobart
Taking a look at those unfamiliar names on schedules, and following Division III teams in interdivisional play:
Early in the season, before conference schedules get underway, there’s a handful of out-of-division matchups each week. Last week featured Division III teams taking on teams high-powered Division II conferences Missouri-Rolla of their MIAA and Ouachita Baptist of the Gulf South. After splitting six games in Week 1 vs. Division II teams, Division III went 0-4, all on the road.
The results were better against the NAIA. Not only did Division III teams win all six games, including four on the road, they beat two top-10s. St. Ambrose (Iowa) dropped from 9th to 14th in the latest NAIA coaches’ poll after a 10-point loss to UW-Platteville, and fell from 11th to 21st in Victory Sports Network’s rankings. Coaches dropped Black Hills State (S.D.) from 10th to 24th after a 14-3 defeat against UW-Eau Claire, while VSN dropped them from 13th to 18th.
The WIAC, which also sent UW-Stout to play Rolla, is well represented here again, playing all three non-major classifications this week. That probably says something about how difficult it is for WIAC teams to get Division IIIs to schedule them.
In this week’s NAIA coaches’ poll, Division III opponents Azusa Pacific (Calif.) and Shorter (Ga.) are receiving votes. Shorter was ranked 22nd a week ago by VSN.
And if you thought Southwest Assemblies of God was an interesting school name, wait until you see who Redlands plays this week.
vs. Division I, FCS (0-1 in Week 2, 1-4 in 2007)
Drake at UW-Platteville
Valparaiso at Kalamazoo
vs. Division II (0-4 in Week 2, 3-7 in 2007)
No. 2 UW-Whitewater at St. Cloud State
Methodist at Chowan
vs. NAIA (6-0 in Week 2, 11-1 in 2007)
Azusa Pacific at No. 6 UW-La Crosse
LaGrange at Shorter
UW-Stevens Point at Iowa Wesleyan
Taylor at Greenville
Haskell Indian Nations at Redlands
For a running list of the season’s interdivisional scores and accompanying discussion, visit our Post Patterns threads D3 vs. D-IAA, D2 and D3 vs. NAIA.
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