The Chargers kick off in a game earlier this season. (Ryan Goff | Col­legian)

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. 

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Nathan is a junior at Hillsdale College studying Rhetoric and Public Address and Journalism. He is Sports Editor and beat reporter for the Football, Women's Basketball, and Baseball teams for the Hillsdale Collegian. When he's not watching or writing about sports, Nathan enjoys playing organ and singing. Originally from St. Louis Missouri, Nathan now lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You can follow Nathan on twitter @nategrime or Hillsdale Collegian Sports at @HDaleSports.