|A signature win vs. John Carroll got Heidelberg back on the map. This week the challenge is even greater.
Photo by Doug Sampson, Heidelberg athletics
By Joe Sager
The past two years, close losses to open the season disrupted Heidelberg’s rhythm.
Two-point defeats to Cortland in the 2015 and ’16 openers set back the Student Princes. In ’15, a 26-24 loss led to an 0-3 start and a 5-5 overall mark. Last fall, a 30-28 decision was part of a 1-2 start and a 6-4 record.
This year, there hasn’t been anything close about Heidelberg’s games. The Student Princes averaged 40.8 points per game in wins against Olivet, Ohio Northern, Muskingum and a big win over John Carroll.
“It’s been really nice to get this momentum going. The last couple years, we’ve had tough losses early in the season. It’s nice to string some wins together,” Heidelberg senior quarterback Tyler Stoyle said. “It’s been a lot of fun these first four weeks of the season. Finally, we see our hard work paying off.”
While a 4-0 start may be surprising to some, the Student Princes showed signs they could be a force last season. Sitting at 2-4, Heidelberg stormed through the rest of its schedule and outscored its last four foes, 191-71. That set the tone for a strong offseason, especially with a bulk of the starters coming back.
“I think finishing with four wins in a row really gave guys confidence. It made us believe a little more and kept us working hard,” Stoyle said. “We talked about that in the offseason. We had a lot of experience coming back. We just had to put everything together.”
The strong finish and returning talent gave the Student Prices hope that they could be an OAC contender.
“We definitely knew we had a lot of talent and a lot of players that can really take us far. We were all locked in. We all believed we could do something big this year,” Heidelberg sophomore defensive back Michael Warden said. “In the offseason, we had the discipline and woke up every day and went to work. That carried into the season and it’ll show on game day.”
The squad captured a signature win with its 47-21 defeat of John Carroll, which was ranked ninth at the time.
“It was a great win. We weren’t really looked at too highly after our first two games,” Warden said. “We came away with two good wins and we were performing well. The win over John Carroll definitely let people know Heidelberg is one of the elite teams in the OAC.”
Warden and the defense led the way in the win over John Carroll with five interceptions. Warden celebrated his 21st birthday with two picks, including one he returned for a touchdown.
“It was awesome. It was a good time to celebrate,” Warden said. “My family came down and got to watch me play. It was an awesome time to celebrate that with them.”
The aerial thefts are nothing for Heidelberg. The squad has 10 on the season so far.
“It’s awesome to see our defensive backs make plays like that. We come to practice and work hard, so it’s nice to see all the hard work pay off,” Warden said. “Having that many interceptions is pretty awesome. We’ll keep doing what we can to get those numbers up and keep making plays. Its’ fun to go out with these guys and showcase what we’re working on. It’s a lot easier for us to make plays when our offense is putting pressure on teams. The offense goes out and makes the team look good. We want to make it look even better by holding teams under high numbers. The offense takes a lot of pressure off us and lets us go play and fly to the ball.”
The Student Princes’ high-paced offense has been effective, too. The 36 points it produced in last week’s 36-13 win at Muskingum are its fewest, so far.
“The offense has given us a lot of confidence. We’ve been able to convert on a few third downs here and there and we’ve been able to move the ball,” Stoyle said. “The defense helps us out. Our defense is very, very good this year. Our defensive line, I believe, is the best in the country. As an offense, we have confidence that, if we don’t score on every possession, we’re still going to win the game.”
Stoyle has thrown the ball all over the field with regularity. He’s passed for 1,363 yards (340.8 per game) already. Demetrius Magee (35 catches, 532 yards) and Tony Morris (21, 398) have eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark the past two weeks. Running back Cameron Vocke (13, 150), Braden Jerome (12, 116) and Keivon Belcher (9, 109) are other top targets.
“Our offensive line has been good. I think we have two of the best receivers in the country with (Magee) and Tony. Braden is very good and Cam has a lot of experience. Those guys make my job easy,” Stoyle said. “We’ve played a lot of football together and that experience is starting to pay off.”
Now, Heidelberg faces its biggest test in No. 2 Mount Union. The Student Prices hope for some more magic on their home turf Saturday.
“That John Carroll game was a huge win. It’s the first time since I’ve been here that we beat someone we weren’t supposed to beat. It was a huge accomplishment for the team, but only a small step in what we’re working towards,” Stoyle said. “We have to finish; 4-0 doesn’t get us in the playoffs or a championship. It just gets us 4-0. We have to keep playing and focusing on one game at a time.”
Case Western Reserve remained perfect (4-0) on the year with a 35-14 win vs. St. Vincent.
Quarterback Rob Cuda passed for a career-best 357 yards. He threw for four touchdowns and ran in the other one for the Spartans. He surpassed the 6,000-yard mark for his career and moved into third place in program passing yardage annals.
It was the 95th win for head coach Greg Debeljak.
A week after it snapped a 33-game losing streak with a win over St. Vincent, Grove City made it two in a row with a 21-14 triumph at Waynesburg.
The Wolverines’ defense ended Waynesburg’s last three possessions with interceptions to seal the victory.
Meanwhile, Grove City’s offense chewed up clock – the go-ahead touchdown drive took up almost the entire third quarter (19 plays, 86 yards in 9:24).
Staying in the PAC, Westminster secured a huge road win with a 24-21 overtime triumph at Thomas More.
The game stayed close as the teams traded touchdowns throughout regulation. The Saints fumbled away the ball on their OT possession. John Cybak’s 33-yard field goal gave Westminster the win. It kept the Titans unbeaten (2-0) in PAC play and dropped the Saints to a surprising 0-3 in the conference.
Keeping it close
The NCAC featured a pair of close contests as No. 25 Wabash rallied to beat Wooster, 33-28, while DePauw held on to top Ohio Wesleyan, 31-30.
Conversely, Allegheny racked up the yards and points in a 57-40 victory over Hiram. The 57 points were the Gators’ most in a game since 1999. They totaled 539 yards on offense.
A new Hope
Hope opened MIAA play with a 42-20 win at Olivet. The Flying Dutchmen, who were picked as the MIAA preseason favorites, scored 35 points in the first half to knock off the defending champs.
Quarterback Mason Opple passed for 205 yards and four scores, while running back Brandan Campbell had 140 yards and two TDs.
In the polls
No. 2 Mount Union (4-0) beat Ohio Northern, 43-14, in OAC action. The Purple Raiders visit No. 21 Heidelberg on Saturday in a key battle.
No. 14 Wittenberg (4-0) defeated Denison, 28-21, in NCAC play. The Tigers visit Hiram on Saturday.
No. 16 Washington & Jefferson (4-0) cruised past Thiel, 55-3, in PAC action. The Presidents visit Carnegie Mellon on Saturday.
No. 17 Case Western Reserve (4-0) stopped St. Vincent, 35-14, in a PAC battle. The Spartans welcome Bethany on Saturday.
No. 21 Heidelberg (4-0) defeated Muskingum, 36-13, in OAC action. The Student Princes face a big test Saturday against No. 2 Mount Union.
No. 25 Wabash (4-0) beat Wooster, 33-28, in an NCAC contest. The Little Giants welcome Denison on Saturday.