Never in the first 124 seasons of Hillsdale College football had the team exceeded 611 yards of offense in a single game. In year 125, they’ve done it in consecutive weeks.
The Chargers’ offense piled up 659 total yards in a 56-0 thumping of conference adversary Kentucky Wesleyan College on homecoming last Saturday.
The offensive output broke a school record set just seven days earlier, when Hillsdale totaled 650 yards against the University of Indianapolis.
The defensive effort amounted to the Chargers’ first shutout since 2015.
The victory improves Hillsdale’s record to 3-2 this season and 1-0 in the G-MAC.
Head coach Keith Otterbein took a chance right from the start, dialing up an onside kick to begin the game. Redshirt freshman Joe Philipp executed the kick, and junior tight end John Brennan fell on the ball near midfield, giving Hillsdale’s offense prime field position to begin its onslaught.
“That’s always a tough decision, because you may give up momentum or field position,” Otterbein said of the onside kick call. “But it worked out perfectly, and that’s the kind of stuff you do on homecoming.”
The Chargers’ first-team offense scored touchdowns on all seven of its possessions on the field, and Hillsdale’s lead swelled to 42-0 by halftime.
Junior quarterback Chance Stewart was as efficient as he was effective, completing 16 of 21 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns. He added two more touchdowns on the ground.
“We just wanted to come out, make a statement, put our foot down from the get-go, and show that we’re ready,” Stewart said. “It was nice to play on homecoming and in all phases, just really dominate the whole football game.”
Stewart’s efforts earned him the G-MAC offensive Player of the Week award, the second consecutive week a Hillsdale football player received the honor.
Thirteen different Chargers caught passes in the victory. Junior wide receiver Trey Brock again led the receiving corps, hauling in six passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Brennan had two receptions, and made the most of both. The first was a 3-yard touchdown; the second was a 66-yard highlight-reel score in which he outran the Panthers’ secondary on his way to the end zone.
“We usually run that play for wide receivers, but the coaching staff had enough faith in me to run it this week,” Brennan said. “I thought it was going to be open just based on the film, and once I caught it, I just headed for the pylon, didn’t want to get caught from behind, and it worked out.”
The two touchdowns were the first two of Brennan’s collegiate career.
Junior wide receiver Austin Sandusky caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Steven Ficyk in the fourth quarter to put the Chargers over the 50-point threshold for the first time since homecoming last season.
Ficyk directed the offense for four possessions in the second half, giving Stewart a rest thanks to the lopsided score. The sophomore quarterback led the Chargers to scoring opportunities three times.
“When you compare [Ficyk and Stewart], they’re both good quarterbacks,” Sandusky said. “It’s the same offense, nothing different. They know it, we know it. The routes are all the same. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing our jobs.”
Ficyk finished the game 7-for-11 with 108 yards passing. Third-string redshirt freshman quarterback Ty Cox made it onto the field for the Chargers’ last offensive possession of the game.
Hillsdale continues to get production out of its backfield, despite the news that 2016 honorable mention all-GLIAC running back Joe Reverman will miss the remainder of the season. The junior entered the year recovering from offseason knee surgery, and re-aggravated the injury on Sept. 9 against Michigan Tech. He, along with doctors, decided another surgery is his best option in the long run.
In the meantime, sophomore running back David Graham continued to build on his impressive year, carrying the ball 14 times for 64 yards and a first-quarter touchdown. He now has seven touchdowns this season, and has scored in all five games.
“It’s a goal to score every week, but that’s just a personal goal,” Graham said. “The goal, obviously, for the team is to win, so whatever that takes.”
Stewart actually led the Chargers in total rushing, edging Graham with 70 yards on three carries.
“I teased him a little about that. I let him know how upset I was,” Graham joked. “It was funny. I started laughing after the game when I heard about him being the leading rusher.”
In addition to his two touchdown scrambles, Stewart rumbled for 50 yards on a third down late in the second quarter.
“In my mind, I want to throw the football every time,” Stewart said. “But picking up those extra first downs with your legs can really hurt a defense.”
Hillsdale converted on eight of 14 third-down opportunities, and went 2-for-2 on fourth down attempts. One of the fourth down conversions went for a touchdown to junior tight end Drew Zwiers.
As much as the game was highlighted by Stewart’s performance and the offense’s lethal attack, the Chargers’ defense was stingy all day long, holding the Panthers to just 141 total yards of offense and a woeful 1-for-14 on third downs.
Sophomore linebacker Dan Shanley said that during halftime, the defense made it an objective to keep the Panthers off the board for two more quarters.
“Our defense isn’t going to get pushed around by anybody,” Shanley said. “We’re not going to roll over when we’re down, and we’re not going to let up when we’re ahead, which was big for us this week.”
Shanley helped preserve the shutout with a third-quarter interception at Hillsdale’s goal line. He returned the pick 70 yards, setting up the Chargers’ offense in Kentucky Wesleyan’s territory.
Sophomore defensive lineman Elliot Laisure led the defensive unit with 1.5 sacks, junior lineman Charlie Yost and redshirt freshmen linemen Zach VanValkenburg and Schuyler Snell all notched a sack, and sophomore linebacker Wain Clarke had half a sack.
“On both sides of the ball we were in pretty good shape on the line of scrimmage, and that’s where it all starts,” Otterbein said. “Controlling the run game dictated the fact that we were able to put pressure on the quarterback because they were in more 3rd-and-long situations.”
Tied atop the G-MAC with the Chargers are Ohio Dominican University and the University of Findlay, both also undefeated in the conference. Those happen to be the next two teams on Hillsdale’s schedule.
“We’ve still got a tough schedule ahead of us,” Graham said. “I think this win shows those teams that we’re going to be contenders in this league.”
The Chargers travel to Columbus, Ohio this Saturday, Oct. 7, for ODU’s homecoming game at noon. The last time Hillsdale played Ohio Dominican was two seasons ago, when the Chargers lost 34-29, in Stewart’s first collegiate start.
“That will be a huge game for us,” Stewart said. “Their defense two years ago was really good. Their offense is powerful. When you have an opponent like that, at their place, for their homecoming, we just have to keep the momentum going.”
Hillsdale’s next home game is Oct. 14 against Findlay, and ESPN3 will be on site to cover the action. The conference clash will be ESPN’s first broadcast of Chargers football in school history.