In a game that featured 11 turnovers and more than 1,000 yards of offense, the Hillsdale College Chargers defeated No. 12 Ohio Dominican University on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, 34 – 18.
ODU is the defending G-MAC champions and was predicted to finish first in the conference again this season. The loss is the Panthers’ first-ever against a G-MAC opponent. The win means the Chargers now control their own fate in the conference for the remainder of the season.
“You beat the defending champs, they’re champs until they’re not champs. They’re still the defending champs,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “But people have got to go, ‘whoa’. To put some awareness to that, across the country even, that’s a big win to beat No. 12 at their place.”
Despite the margin of victory, the Chargers didn’t get on the board until the second quarter. Hillsdale had the ball three times in the first quarter, and all three drives ended in senior quarterback Chance Stewart throwing an interception.
“I’ve been playing quarterback for a long time and have never had that happen before,” Stewart said. “It was two poor choices and a really bad ball that ended in three interceptions. Just had to calm down and take what they were giving us. Credit the defense; they kept us in the game.”
The Chargers’ defense came up big in response, and allowed just three points off of the three turnovers. Two of the Panthers’ three first-quarter possessions also resulted in interceptions, one by senior defensive back Wyatt Batdorff and the other by sophomore defensive back Alex Anschutz. Both Batdorff and Anschutz finished the game with two interceptions each.
In the second quarter, however, Hillsdale’s offense began to find a rhythm. Junior running back David Graham rushed for a 5-yard touchdown to begin the quarter, giving Hillsdale a lead it would retain for the rest of the game. Later in the quarter, Stewart found senior tight end Drew Zwiers for a 4-yard score, and the Chargers led 14 – 3 at halftime.
Stewart finished the game 17 for 26 passing with a season-high 274 yards. He surpassed 7,000 career passing yards in the performance, moving into second place all-time in Chargers history in total passing. He now trails only Troy Weatherhead, who quarterbacked Hillsdale from 2007 – 2010. Stewart gave credit to his offensive line and Graham’s performance in the rushing game for creating passing opportunities on Saturday.
“That’s the O-line giving me time and the receivers getting open, and because David Graham’s running the ball well and they have to put more people in the box,” Stewart said. “There’s a lot of things that play into that.”
Graham rushed for his second touchdown of the game in the third quarter, and Stewart hit senior wide receiver Austin Sandusky for an 80-yard touchdown to extend Hillsdale’s lead to 27 – 10. The 80-yard connection is the longest completion of the season for Stewart and the longest reception of Sandusky’s career.
Sandusky finished the game with four receptions and a team-high 143 yards, and was named the G-MAC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.
Senior wide receiver Trey Brock, in his first full game of the season, caught seven passes for 57 yards. He now sits just 51 receiving yards shy of Andre Holmes’ school record.
“He required a lot of attention. He lets guys like [sophomore wide receiver] K.J. Maloney and Austin get open,” Stewart said of Brock’s impact. “Teams really have to respect Trey, and with the way K.J. and Austin have been playing, it’s going to really put teams in a bind to figure out how they want to stop our offense when we have three weapons on the outside.”
The play of the game came early in the fourth quarter when freshman defensive back Matt Harding blocked a field goal attempt and returned the block 80 yards for a touchdown. That play alone earned Harding the G-MAC Special Teams Player of the Week award.
The Panthers scored one more touchdown and converted a two-point attempt to settle the score at 34 – 18. After three games, Hillsdale’s defense leads the G-MAC in three different categories: points allowed per game (19.3), touchdowns allowed (7) and interceptions (7). Five of those interceptions came on Saturday.
“We gave up way too many yards, but the turnovers really saved us. Most of the turnovers were deep in our own territory,” Batdorff said. “Three of the picks were off of tips, so those were guys being in the right place and a little bit of luck. Everyone was doing their job and flying to the ball, which allows you to get more chances for turnovers.”
The Chargers have six more conference games on their schedule. If they take care of business and win, they’ll be G-MAC champions. Hillsdale hasn’t won a conference championship since 2011.
“I don’t think there’s a team in our conference that isn’t worried about playing us. This puts more of a statement that Hillsdale will be, and is, one of the top teams in the conference,” Stewart said. “We always get everyone’s best every week, and when we have the type of players we have on the offensive and defensive side, people aren’t really going to overlook you.”
The Chargers return home on Saturday for Homecoming, when they host the Lake Erie College Storm. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. Hillsdale defeated Lake Erie last season, 54 – 0.