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Sophomore Merrick Canada returned a fumble 97 yards for a touchdown on Saturday in the Chargers’ win over Alderson Broaddus. (Photo: Todd Lancaster | Courtesy)

In their first trip to Alderson Broaddus University in school history, the Hillsdale College Chargers escaped with a 37-31 victory on Saturday, running their record to 5-4 this season and 3-2 in the G-MAC.

With the victory, the Chargers move into sole possession of third place in the conference. The University of Findlay and Ohio Dominican University both improved to 5-0 in the G-MAC last weekend, eliminating Hillsdale from conference title contention.

After the Chargers scored on their first possession of the game, Alderson Broaddus used scoring plays of 80, 62, and 93 yards to rattle off 21 unanswered points. Hillsdale faced a 21-7 deficit at the end of the first quarter.

“The big plays were where the points came up, otherwise we’re in pretty good shape,” head coach Keith Otterbein said of Hillsdale’s first-quarter defense. “Eliminate a couple of plays, and I was very happy with how the defense played.”

Early in the second quarter with a two-score lead, the Battlers attempted to pound the ball in on a 4th-and-goal attempt from Hillsdale’s one yard line. The Chargers stood up the rushing attempt, and sophomore defensive back Jason McDonough stripped the ball loose. Fellow sophomore defensive back Merrick Canada scooped up the fumble and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown, the second consecutive week Hillsdale has scored on defense.

“If they score there, that game could be over,” senior defensive lineman Jordon Harlamert said. “We could have caved in, but we were resilient enough to make a big play.”

The scoop-and-score swung the momentum in Hillsdale’s favor, and the next time its defense took the field, senior defensive back Will Jones came away with an interception. The Chargers’ defense has created six turnovers, five of them interceptions, in the last two weeks. McDonough has forced a turnover in three consecutive games.

On offense, sophomore running back David Graham carried the ball 21 times for 106 yards and a first-quarter touchdown. His 12 touchdown rushes this season are tied for second-most in the G-MAC.

Junior quarterback Chance Stewart completed 20-of-36 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns. With the performance, Stewart moved to fourth all-time for career passing yards in school history, surpassing the 6,000 yard mark on the way.

Junior wide receiver Trey Brock caught nine passes for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns. With 66 receptions this season, Brock now holds the G-MAC record for receptions in a single season, still with two games remaining on the schedule. For the second time this year, he earned the G-MAC Offensive Player of the Week award.

“That’ll be something we talk about after the season,” Stewart said of the records. “This is our third year, so we have a good vibe for each other on the football field. We both know that we’re the most successful when we help each other get going early in games.”

Two of Brock’s touchdowns came on Hillsdale’s last drive of the first half and first drive of the second half. His first score, a three-yard reception, brought the Chargers to within three at the break. His second touchdown, a 46-yard catch-and-run, put Hillsdale ahead for the first time in the game.

After the quick strike to begin the third quarter, the Chargers didn’t relinquish the lead, although they didn’t put the game out of reach either.

“We didn’t put the knockout punch to them in the second half to really seal it and finish a drive,” Otterbein said. “We certainly had some untimely penalties. Instead of just playing, we let that kind of get into our mind a little bit. I think our execution suffered a little bit because of that, and it certainly creates harder down-and-distance situations. The timing of the penalties was unfortunate, but you’ve got to overcome that.”

Senior wide receiver Timmy Mills caught his first touchdown pass of the season, a 50-yard heave from Stewart, to increase Hillsdale’s lead to 34-24. Mills said the Chargers ran an identical play earlier in the game where he was open down the field, but it wasn’t until the second time the offense ran the play that the ball came his way.

“The safety and the corner both went with Trey, and they just let me go,” Mills said. “The second time, Chance knew it, and just let it fly.”

“The whole thing was kind of a busted play,” Stewart said. “I ended up getting into some empty space, my eyes went down the field to Timmy and sure enough, he was standing five yards from the end zone waving at me, wide open, and it was one of the easiest touchdown passes I could ever ask for.”

Mills finished with three catches for 71 yards, his most productive game of the season.

The Battlers had their chances in the second half, but Hillsdale’s defense didn’t budge. Junior defensive back Wyatt Batdorff intercepted a pass in the end zone midway through the third quarter to put an end to a scoring threat.

“That interception could have been a touchdown for them,” Batdorff said. “In a game decided by six points, it was crucial to get the ball back to the offense.”

In the fourth quarter, sophomore defensive lineman Nate Canterbury and senior defensive lineman Casey Schukow teamed up to stop Alderson Broaddus on a 4th-and-1 rushing attempt at midfield.

The Battlers’ offense converted only one of its four fourth down attempts in the game.

After allowing 142 yards on two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter, Hillsdale held Alderson Broaddus to just 35 yards on the ground in 30 attempts the rest of the game.

Harlamert led the defensive unit with 2.5 sacks and 10 total tackles. The Chargers registered five sacks and seven tackles for loss in the game.

“One of our guys would make their quarterback step up, and another guy would be in the right spot at the right time,” Harlamert said. “It was just guys doing their job throughout the whole game. Our gameplan was good, and when we’re in the right spot at the right time, good things happen.”

Batdorff made nine tackles, increasing his team-leading total to 81 this season. He ranks second in the G-MAC in tackles.

With two more games this season, Hillsdale has its sights fixed on a goal it set two weeks ago.

“After we lost to Findlay, we knew the G-MAC championship was probably not going to be out there for us. But what was was a 7-4 record,” Stewart said. “We want the seniors to go out 7-4. That’s what those seniors deserve. You really want to do everything for them.”

The Chargers are halfway to their goal of finishing the season with four consecutive victories and a 7-4 mark. Hillsdale hasn’t won seven games in a season since 2012, when it went 7-4.

“We’re definitely hitting a stride here,” Mills said. “This has happened before in other seasons, where we finish out very strongly. I credit that to the hard workouts that we go through and the way the coaches coach.”

The Chargers return to Hillsdale on Saturday for Senior Day. Kickoff against Malone University (1-7, 1-4) is at 1 p.m.