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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.