The Hillsdale College Chargers had multiple chances to steal a win on the road against Michigan Tech University on Saturday, but let the game slip away late in the fourth quarter and in overtime in a demoralizing 31 – 30 defeat.
The Huskies tied the game at 24 with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter with a touchdown and two-point conversion. To begin overtime, Michigan Tech scored a touchdown and converted an extra point to take a 31 – 24 lead.
On the Chargers’ first possession of overtime, senior quarterback Chance Stewart connected with senior wide receiver Austin Sandusky for a 13-yard touchdown to make the game 31 – 30, but sophomore kicker Joe Philipp missed the extra point attempt that would have extended the game. The loss drops Hillsdale to 1 – 1 before conference games begin.
“We all have to understand that the kick was it, but in reality, there were a few opportunities before that,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “You have to live with the consequences.”
Those opportunities for Hillsdale included a situation in which the Chargers had 1st-and-goal from the Huskies’ one yard line early in the fourth quarter, but were able to come away with only three points.
“That sequence of plays hurt us,” Stewart said. “Our identity as an offense is that we’re a bunch of tough dudes that can go and get one yard. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”
A touchdown instead of a field goal at that point would have given Hillsdale a two-possession lead, and likely, the game would never have needed to go to overtime.
After the field goal, an interception by sophomore defensive back Alex Anschutz gave the Chargers another opportunity to extend their lead to two scores. Hillsdale’s offense stalled, however, and the Chargers weren’t able to convert the turnover into points despite beginning the drive in Michigan Tech territory.
“We had our chances to put the game away, but we laid an egg when we really needed to make plays,” Stewart said.
Stewart completed 18 of 31 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with three different tight ends in the passing game: seniors John Brennan and Drew Zwiers, and sophomore Martin Petersen.
Brennan caught two passes for 53 yards and Zwiers caught two passes for 37 yards. Petersen caught one pass for a 27-yard touchdown, his first career collegiate score.
“They might be the back end of some of our other guys on our offense, but they’re all capable,” Stewart said. “We were down two receivers Saturday, so we needed some guys to step up, and all three of them stepped up really big for us. Look for them more and more throughout the rest of the year to really contribute to our offense.”
The two inactive wide receivers for Hillsdale were senior Trey Brock and sophomore Alexander Giampietro, who both sustained injuries in the season’s first game on Sept. 1. Filling the void at wideout was sophomore K.J. Maloney, who caught nine passes for 151 yards, both career-highs.
“Every time we step on the football field, he’s the fastest guy on the field, hands down. We’ve just got to get the ball to him in space,” Stewart said. “He’s a tough kid, and a really good receiver. Even when we get Trey back, it’ll be really nice to have that one-two punch there, and he’s only going to make us better.”
Junior running back David Graham rushed the ball 26 times for 80 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season. Last year, Graham led the Chargers with 18 rushing touchdowns. Through two games this season, Graham is averaging only 3.4 yards a carry, and Hillsdale as a team is averaging 2.4 yards per carry. Those numbers are a far cry from last season’s rushing productivity. Graham averaged 6.3 yards per carry in 2017, and the Chargers averaged 4.8 yards per rush as a team.
“Getting to the edge was a little difficult for us,” Otterbein said. “They’ve got good players out there, but we’ve certainly got to be better at that part. To be effective as an offense, that really is a big part of our run-pass option stuff. We’ve got to tweak that and fix it and make sure that gets corrected this week.”
On the other hand, Hillsdale’s defense limited the Huskies’ run-focused offense to just 3.6 yards per carry.
“They had a tough time running their power. We shut that down pretty well,” senior linebacker Dan Shanley said. “They had to revert to the pass, which is not something that they excel in. We contained the run pretty well all day.”
Shanley led the defense with nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. The Chargers also got to the quarterback twice for sacks. Sophomore Zach VanValkenburg, Hillsdale’s premier pass rusher, netted 1.5 sacks and has 2.5 through two games.
“Our D-line does a phenomenal job,” Shanley said. “Often on passing downs, we just rush four. When we have four guys that can pressure the quarterback like that, it really makes the back seven’s job a lot easier.”
Despite the gut-wrenching loss, Otterbein said the team will look to build on its strengths that were on display Saturday.
“We’re going to look at the good things we did, we’re going to identify the mistakes we made, we’re going to correct them, and we’re going to move on,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time to pout, because we’re playing a really good football team on Saturday. We’ve got to learn our lessons from the one we let slip away and move on and get ready for the next one.”
This weekend presents another big test for Hillsdale. The team travels to Ohio Dominican University to take on the conference-favorite Panthers (2 – 0, 0 – 0) in the first conference game of the season for both teams. The G-MAC title this fall goes through ODU, and the Chargers know it. Last season, Hillsdale fell to the Panthers on the road, 41 – 27. Kickoff on Saturday is at 7 p.m.
“I think every game is important, but this is a really important game,” Otterbein said. “Playing the best team in the conference on the road, after a couple of big wins for them, we certainly have to get after them.”