A furious fourth quarter rally by the Hillsdale College Chargers was not enough to overcome a stagnant start at Tiffin on Saturday.
The Chargers reeled off 21 straight points over the final eight minutes of the contest but fell short, 31 – 24.
“Any time we’ve faced a quarterback who runs around and creates, we’ve struggled,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “That was the case on Saturday.”
Tiffin quarterback Antonio Pipkin caused problems throughout the game for Hillsdale’s defense, evading tackles and finding receivers for 325 passing and two touchdowns. Pipkin also ran for 45 yards and another touchdown.
“That’s been a real test for us, playing against those mobile quarterbacks,” Otterbein said. “He hurt us with his legs.”
Several big plays from Tiffin hurt the Chargers.
Pipkin found Tiffin receiver Charles Holland for a 77-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, putting Tiffin up at the time 31 – 3. Early in the second quarter, Tiffin returned a blocked punt for a touchdown that pushed all the momentum in their favor and gave the Dragons a 14 – 0 lead.
“That was a huge momentum shift, especially having it returned for a touchdown at that point in the game when it was still a close game,” senior captain defensive back Tim Moinet said.
As has been a pattern in recent weeks, the Chargers offense took a few quarters to warm up. The Chargers have shown potential to be a potent offense, but as with any young team, it has been a process.
“We’re continually working to get better,” quarterback Mark LaPrairie said. “Just getting everyone on the right page, getting everything in sync, that doesn’t happen quickly.”
LaPrairie threw for 208 yards on 21 completions in addition to scrambling for 9 yards.
“We’ve shown that once we do get it together that we can be pretty good,” LaPrairie said. “Hopefully this week we’ll get it together and get a good win.”
LaPrairie was knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter by the Tiffin defense, allowing backup quarterback C.J. Mifsud to make his collegiate debut.
Mifsud came into the game on emergency duty and led the team down the field and into the end zone.
“He showed some toughness,” Otterbein said in praise of his backup quarterback. “He got smacked right in the mouth one time and had to get back up and threw a touchdown pass the next play.”
Mifsud found wide receiver John Haley for a 23-yard score on 4th-and-17 with just over a minute remaining, pulling the Chargers to within a touchdown.
“He’s been around the system and he’s been waiting for this opportunity,” Otterbein said. “He stepped up.”
The Chargers now stand at 2 – 6 on the season and are in the midst of a 5‑game skid.
On Oct. 18, the Chargers fell at home to the Ashland Eagles by a score of 17 – 7.
Hillsdale suffered from an uncharacteristic four turnovers on the day, including their first two lost fumbles of the entire season.
Tailback Jack Wiseman found the end zone from 18 yards out to make the score 10 – 7 late in the first quarter, but the Chargers were unable to put any points on the board after that.
The Charger defense held Ashland’s top-25 offense, who came into the contest averaging 42 points per game, to just 10 points on the offensive side of the ball. Moinet contributed an interception to the defense’s performance.
The Chargers had a chance to win with a touchdown drive late in the game but the Eagles picked off LaPrairie and returned it for a touchdown.
Hillsdale will look to bounce back on Saturday in front of their home fans against a similar team, 2 – 6 Saginaw Valley.
“They’ve had a very similar season to us where they’ve battled and competed and come up short a few times,” Otterbein said. “They’ve had to replace some really good players just like we have.”
Saginaw Valley has been one of the top teams in the GLIAC in past years, but lost several key players to matriculation last year, including wide receiver Jeff Janis who now plays in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers.
Nevertheless, the Chargers know this matchup will be challenging.
“They’re finding their way and coach [Jim] Collins does a great job with the program,” Otterbein said. “We’re expecting a dogfight.”