Through six games this season, Heidelberg's football team had not really been challenged late.
The Student Princes, undefeated and ranked No. 19 in Division III, have been blowing out opponents, to the point where everything has generally been decided by the end of three quarters.
It wasn't that way Saturday against Muskingum.
The Muskies came into Saturday's game with just a 1-5 mark, but found themselves down just 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, with the ball at their own 39.
Facing a third down and one, Muskingum quarterback C.J. Snider gave the ball to back Shane Dotson.
He went nowhere.
On fourth down coach Al Logan kept his offense on the field. To pick up the yardage, he kept the ball in the hands of Snider, who had minutes earlier rumbled for a 24-yard touchdown.
"We knew, the quarterback, he was running all over us all game," said Heidelberg free safety Chadd Williamson. "It all came down to making a play."
And Williamson made one. He and teammate Dawson Gore stopped Snider behind the line of scrimmage, then other defenders helped to push him back. Heidelberg had the ball, the momentum, and soon, the game.
"Our whole defense knew what we had to do," said linebacker Adam Cepik. "We had to stop them right here. We couldn't let them drive on us."
Once again, the Heidelberg defense played well. It was responsible only for one touchdown, and sacked Snider three times. Gore led HU with 10 tackles, while Williamson, Cepik and linebacker Craig Sykes had nine each. Cepik also had a sack.
It was Muskingum's defense that shined in the early going, forcing Heidelberg into four straight punts, and accounting for the game's first points when cornerback Andrew Davis intercepted a Mike Mees pass in the second quarter and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Muskie lead.
Heidelberg answered quickly.
First, HU's Cartel Brooks returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the Muskingum 46. Two plays later, Mees found a wide open Mario Escalante down the left sideline for a tying touchdown.
"(Escalante) certainly got us going," said Heidelberg coach Mike Hallett after his team improved to 7-0.
Heidelberg took the lead later in the quarter, driving down to the Muskingum 3 and converting when Mees hit Robert Gray for a touchdown pass.
But despite leading 14-7 at the break, the Student Princes' offense was still struggling. Cartel Brooks, who had run for more than 100 yards in every game this season, was held to just 19 first-half yards.
Then, in one play, it all changed.
On Heidelberg's first offensive possession of the second half, from the HU 22, Brooks took a handoff, ran through a seam and was gone. The 78-yard touchdown run gave Heidelberg a 21-7 edge.
"I was gonna break [a play] eventually," said Brooks, a Galion graduate who finished with 140 yards on the ground Saturday. "Our line came together, and them blocking like they're supposed to, that's what happens when a team comes together at the end."
Brooks also was responsible for Heidelberg's final score, a 10-yard sweep on a fourth and one early in the final quarter.
Heidelberg finished the contest with 221 rushing yards. Along with Brooks, back Bryan Lacey got going, rushing for 53 as Heidelberg wound down the clock.
"We're a fast-paced team," Brooks said. "We go real fast and a lot of teams can't handle that."
Snider had a solid game for Muskingum (1-6), throwing for 182 yards and running for 92.
"He's a great player," Cepik said. "Juked half our team out, so he's a good player all around."
Heidelberg will see plenty of solid players - and solid teams - in the next three weeks, with Mount Union, John Carroll and Baldwin-Wallace on the schedule.
And it starts next week with the Purple Raiders, the No. 1 team in Division III.
Hallett said the Student Princes weren't at their best Saturday.
"We've got to improve quite a bit, and that's what I was talking to the guys about afterwards," Hallett said.