If there was one true symbol for the turnaround the Heidelberg football program has taken under coach Mike Hallett, it very well might be the Rhine River Cup.
The trophy is presented each year to the winner between HU and Otterbein. From 2003-2010, the Student Princes watched Otterbein leave the field with the Cup each year. However, the Cup has found a new home in Tiffin.
Saturday at Mayer Field Heidelberg lifted the Cup for the second-straight year, after shutting out Otterbein 21-0 in a meeting of the two Ohio Athletic Conference teams tied at No. 25 in the latest D3football.com poll.
"It's a mindset; it's a champions mindset," HU defensive lineman Stephen Fejedelem said. "(Coach Mike) Hallett's been able to turn that on to us and we've taken it in pretty well."
A lot of attention during Heidelberg's now 6-0 start has been given to the offense which came into Saturday averaging 49 points a game. However, the HU defense let it be known it's a force to be reckoned with as well.
"Its a rewarding day. Thats a quality opponent we played, Otterbein brought a lot of thunder. I think our guys weathered the storm with their emotion, our emotion," Hallett said. "I would've like to have a little bit more on offense, but our defense played so dog gone good all day, it's really, truly great that we could protect each other the way we did. We kind of weren't really going after points in the fourth quarter, as much as trying to grind the clock, eat some time and keep the defense off the field a little bit. And the defense every time they were called upon, responded. It's a great day for us."
Fejedelem helped lead the defensive charge with seven tackles, three for losses and a pair of sacks. Fellow defensive lineman Ben Poirier, who joined Fejedelem in spending a good portion of the afternoon in the Otterbein backfield, also recorded a pair of sacks and put a hit on Cardinal starting quarterback Aaron Kingcade that helped cause a Heidelberg interception.
"We thought our keys to the game were one, containing the quarterback and other than a couple break outs, I thought we did a good job of keeping both their guys in the pocket and harassing them a little bit, getting hits on them, getting sacks," Hallett said.
Heidelberg struck quickly on the game's first possession going 61 yards in seven plays, with the payoff coming on a 3-yard scoring rush from Cartel Brooks.
Otterbein attempted to answer, driving down inside Heidelberg's 10, but a sack by Poirier and a hold penalty pushed the Cardinals back and the drive finished with a missed 40-yard field goal.
"That's huge momentum swings when they're missing a field goal, when they're in the red zone," Fejedelem said. "That's huge. We just built off that."
That would be as close as Otterbein would get to scoring until the latter stages of the game.
"We couldn't get in a flow today at all," Otterbein coach Tim Doup said. "They got some really good athletes back there. Up front, they're pretty good up front defensively. So when your offensive line can't get a push, then you got to go one phase of the game and they knew it if they took away our run, all were going to do is throw it and they got some great DBs back there that did a good job."
Otterbein was able to contain the big play ability Heidelberg has shown throughout the season's first four weeks. Brooks entered the game ranked third in Division III with over 170 yards rushing a game. Otterbein held him to his season low output of 109 yards a game. However, the Student Princes used a more methodical approach to marching down field.
Hallett said the team's goal was to stress efficiency.
"We didn't have as many big plays, but our game plan didn't really entail as much big play stuff," he said. "We were trying to do a little bit more ball control passing, because their secondary played so soft. So we kind of felt like hitting curls and some of the middle routes were going to be a little better for us. ... We felt we were very efficient on offense today and that was our goal today."
"I think going in, our game plan was to stop big plays," Doup said. "You got to stop the big play against them. They're just a good football team up front. Defensively, I think we held them from big plays, but five here, six there, seven there, they just moved it down the field."
Heidelberg quarterback Michael Mees hit on a 28-yard touchdown pass to Nate Hasse in the second quarter and one more to C.J. Powell covering 22 yards in the third.
Mees finished the day 18-for-24 passing for 240 yards and a pair of scoring strikes.
"It's all about completions and having the line that we do," Mees said. "Trusting in them that they're going to make the blocks and not giving up any sacks today, which is a big thing for the line to do. I trust fully in them. Couldn't do it without them."
Powell caught six balls for 115 yards. Mario Escalante caught six passes of his own for 57 yards.
Late in the third, Otterbein again marched inside the Heidelberg 10, but Tim Littles and Mitchell Kelly
each broke up passes in the end zone to preserve the shutout.
"Shutouts don't happen too often around Heidelberg, but this is our second one this year and we love it. and we're going to keep doing it," Fejedelem said.
Otterbein drops its first game the season, falling to 5-1, 4-1 OAC.