Hillsdale’s season opener hardly lacked excitement. Unfortunately, the Chargers came out on the losing side as the Findlay Oilers won a thrilling contest 46 – 38 in front of their home fans on Saturday.
“Our guys don’t have anything to hang their heads about,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “We were faced with a pretty big challenge. That quarterback is pretty good.” The Oiler’s quarterback, former Ohio State recruit Verlon Reed, accounted for all six of Findlay’s touchdowns, with four on the ground and two through the air. Hillsdale’s quarterback was not too shabby either.
“Mark [LaPrairie] did a pretty good job,” coach Otterbein said in praise of his quarterback. “He showed composure. We took care of the football.” Redshirt sophomore LaPrairie threw for 214 yards and a touchdown without throwing a pick in addition to scoring a rushing touchdown in his first game as a starter. He had a chance to lead the Chargers to overtime with a last-minute drive, but couldn’t find the end zone before time ran out.
“It was exciting,” LaPrairie said about playing in such a close contest in his first start. “Honestly I liked [the pressure]. It was really cool. I wanted to be in that position. Ultimately, next time I wish we would have had a timeout or a little more time and we could have finished the drive.” LaPrairie was not the only Charger to shine in the season opener. Redshirt sophomore tailback Bennett Lewis carried the ball 24 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s one of those guys that you really enjoy blocking for,” starting center Justice Karmie said. “He makes you look good.” Lewis suffered a season-ending injury in last year’s opener, so it was great for the team to see him out on the field producing.
“He did a tremendous job,” coach Otterbein said about Lewis’s play. “I feel really good at this stage about where we are at with our tailback position.” Backup tailback Wade Wood also contributed four carries for 35 yards for the Chargers. On the defensive side, Tim Moinet picked off a pass and Butch Herzog recorded 10 solo tackles for Hillsdale. This Saturday, Hillsdale will look to pick up their first win of the season at Lake Erie. According to Otterbein, the Chargers know what they need to improve on to get the win.
“We’d like to be a little more efficient on third down,” coach Otterbein said. Hillsdale finished just 3‑for‑9 on third downs against Findlay. One key failure to convert on third down occurred on the opening drive of the second half in which the Chargers had a chance to take the lead, but couldn’t convert on third-and‑2.
“We were 3‑for‑9 on third downs which isn’t great,” LaPrairie said. “We can do a better job of controlling the ball and not giving it back to them.” Hillsdale will also look to win the big play battle.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to generate some big plays,” coach Otterbein said. “We had eight big plays on Saturday which is about where we want to be. [But] we gave up too many.” Lake Erie is coming off a humiliating 66 – 21 loss to Ashland. Hillsdale realizes such a result makes a team dangerous.
“They’re a little bit embarrassed and want to make a name for themselves,” Karmie said. “We’ve just got to play the way we play, stick to the fundamentals.” The Chargers hope that, in doing so, they’ll return to Hillsdale for their home opener with an even record.