After 40 years of frustration, Heidelberg's playoff hopes were contained in a razor-close contest with Baldwin Wallace Saturday at Mayer Field
Unlike most of their other games, the Student Princes couldn't outrun the Yellow Jackets, or pound them into submission with defense. Instead, BW looked poised to hand Heidelberg its first non-Mount Union loss since the second week of 2011, one that would almost certainly eliminate it from postseason consideration.
With HU leading, 35-34 with 4 seconds left in regulation, BW coach John Snell turned to kicker Chris Mohler. The junior had already had a fourth-quarter extra point blocked, which accounted for the scoring difference. This kick, from 35 yards, was a yard farther than a potential field goal BW faced on its previous drive, and decided against.
Heidelberg defensive back Justin Suddeth approached fellow senior Chadd Williamson just before they lined up to try and block the field goal. Heidelberg was going to bring the block from Williamson's side.
"I went to Chad and said 'Hey, do it for us," Suddeth said. "That whole side, they did it."
Mohler's kick was was low, and blocked by Quentin Rembert, normally an offensive tackle.
"Before we went out there, (HU defensive end) Stephen Fejedelem and I looked at each other, we said, 'this is why they put us together for this year,'" Rembert said. "There wasn't a doubt in my mind we were gonna go out there and block it."
Snell said BW had problems on the field goal attempt.
"The snap was not necessarily good, and (Mohler) had a little hard time getting it and putting it up," Snell said. "Obviously didn't get a good enough shot at it."
It was time for Heidelberg to celebrate. Only the players weren't able to just yet. After the block, the football carried into the end zone. The Yellow Jackets recovered, and some players celebrated what they thought was a winning touchdown.
But because the ball went beyond the line of scrimmage and wasn't touched by a Heidelberg player, the ball was dead and the game was over.
And Heidelberg put itself in excellent position for its first playoff appearance since Richard Nixon won a second term in the White House in 1972.
"We think there will be an opportunity to keep playing; we certainly hope that's the case," said Heidelberg coach Mike Hallett after his team improved to 9-1.
The Student Princes will find out this evening, when Division III announces its postseason field.
Heidelberg won despite being without its star running back, Cartel Brooks, and senior linebacker Dawson Gore. Gore, a Bellevue graduate, didn't dress for the game. Brooks - who was hurt last week - did, but didn't see the field.
In Brooks' place was freshman back Bryan Lacey, who was told he was starting minutes before kickoff.
"A lot of things went through my mind," Lacey said. "But ultimately, I knew from waking up this morning that I was ready to play."
Lacey was Heidelberg's offensive workhorse Saturday, carrying the ball 29 times for 201 yards.
"Our line kept blocking," Lacey said. "They kept making holes for me."
Lacey said he had motivation to keep moving.
"I talked to a couple of the seniors before the game and I told them, 'I'm not gonna let you go out a bad way. I'm gonna do everything I can in my power to get this 'W.'"
Heidelberg's offense was rolling in the first half. Dontez Smith had a rushing TD and quarterback Mike Mees had a pair. Mees also connected on a 41-yard touchdown strike to Mario Escalante.
But the problem was that BW was matching HU's offense with an outburst of its own. Mixing high percentage passing with effective running, the Yellow Jackets matched Heidelberg point-for-point. Tyler Lohr, Nolan Sordyl and Sebastian Zuluaga had first half rushing scores, and Lohr tossed a 1-yard touchdown to Josh Masters.
It all added up to a 28-28 tie at the half.
"We did a good job of mixing in run and pass," Snell said. "Our kids really did a great job executing."
Aside from Lohr's option pass, BW also used a flea flicker at one point, using enough razzle dazzle to keep HU off balance.
"Credit to them, they pulled out their whole bag of tricks today," Suddeth said. "They scored a couple points off us being dumb and not being ready for the trick plays."
But after a score-filled first 30 minutes, the teams played a scoreless third quarter.
In the fourth, BW pulled ahead when quarterback Ryan O'Rourke plowed in from 2 yards out, giving BW a 34-28 lead with 11:43 left. But Mohler's extra point attempt was swatted by Fejedelem.
Immediately, Heidelberg's offense went to work. Starting at his own 37, Mees hit C.J. Powell for 21 yards, then Lacey ran 15 yards to the BW 25. Two plays later, Mees completed a pass to Derek Hug to the 12. Lacey followed with a run down to the BW 1.
That set up Mees' third touchdown of the game, coming with 9:20 left.
"He ran the ball for three touchdowns," Hallett said. "I didn't think I'd ever say that in my life."
Baldwin Wallace responded with a drive into HU territory, moving to the 21 on a rush by Josiah Holt. On fourth-and-4, Snell elected to keep his offense on the field with about six minutes left.
"I was just a little concerned that was a little too far [for a field goal]," Snell said. "And yeah, it didn't help that we had (an extra point) blocked before.
"Hindsight, I probably should have kicked it."
O'Rourke threw a pass to Gabe Adams near the sideline, but HU's Tim Littles was able to break up the throw - the second big play in as many weeks for the sophomore. Last week Little had a key tackle for a loss against John Carroll.
The Student Princes went on to hold the ball for the next 3:54, moving the ball to the BW 45 before being forced to punt with about two minutes left.
BW (7-3) took over at its own 13, and five straight O'Rourke completions moved the Jackets into HU territory. A personal foul on an incompletion pushed Baldwin Wallace to the Heidelberg 18. Two ensuing plays netted no gain, and led to Mohler's field goal attempt.
O'Rourke finished with 165 yards passing, but the big numbers for BW came in the running game, where Zuluaga finished with 133 yards on the ground, while Holt had 111.
Heidelberg's Powell finished with 85 yards receiving, while Mees threw for 193 yards despite being picked twice.
HU linebacker Craig Sykes paced the defense with a team-best 19 tackles, two for a loss and a sack.
Sykes, a senior and 4.0 student, tried to sum up the day, the win, the season.
"It's definitely a culmination of everything we've put into this program," Sykes said. "But it's not the ending for it. That's what the playoffs are all about."