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Chance Stewart threw for 205 yards and one touchdown in Saturday’s win. (Ryan Goff | Col­legian)

Despite waiting through a halftime that took longer than the game itself, the Hillsdale College Chargers defeated the Mer­cy­hurst Uni­versity Lakers in a gritty, 14 – 9 victory on Sat­urday at Frank “Muddy” Waters Stadium. The win is the Chargers’ eighth in a row against Mer­cy­hurst, extending a head-to-head winning streak that began in 2002. This also marks the second con­sec­utive year Hillsdale has bested the Lakers in week one of the season to begin the year 1 – 0.

The Chargers headed into the tunnel after the first half with a 7 – 3 lead, but lightning and tornado warnings kept them in the locker room for two-and-a-half hours before they returned to the field to begin the second half.

“The kids did a nice job of relaxing. They took their pads off, took their shoes off, but didn’t lose focus,” head coach Keith Otterbein said of the unorthodox halftime. “The fact those two football teams went in and spent two-and-a-half hours doing nothing and then came back out and played at a level that they did is a tes­tament to both teams and the focus that they had.”

The Chargers began the third quarter strong indeed, with a nine-play, 81-yard scoring drive com­pleted by a 6‑yard touchdown pass from senior quar­terback Chance Stewart to sophomore wide receiver Alexander Giampietro. The extra point extended Hillsdale’s lead to 14 – 3.

Stewart fin­ished the game an effi­cient 20-for-29 with 205 yards passing. Giampietro led the receiving unit with a career-high six catches and 88 yards. Sophomore wide receiver K.J. Maloney fol­lowed with five recep­tions for 55 yards. Giampietro and Maloney’s per­for­mances were even bigger in light of senior Trey Brock’s early exit from the game. Brock caught one pass on the Chargers’ first drive of the game, but spent the rest of the night on the side­lines after expe­ri­encing dis­comfort in his side. 

“When it comes to K.J. or Alex, or [senior wide receiver] Austin San­dusky, guys like that really have to step up, and they did,” Stewart said. “It was a really big con­tri­bution from everybody. Without Trey, we needed a lot of people to come together.”

The Chargers’ first and only other touchdown came on their first offensive series of the night. Stewart guided the offense 48 yards to the end zone in 11 plays, con­verting three third downs during the series. After a 12-yard com­pletion to Maloney on third down set up 1st-and-goal for Hillsdale from the two yard line, junior running back Christian Shepler rushed for a 2‑yard touchdown on the next play to give the Chargers a lead they would not relin­quish.

Mer­cy­hurst had jumped out to an early 3 – 0 lead thanks to a field goal on its first drive of the game. Holding the Lakers to three points was a victory for the Chargers’ defense, however, since the Lakers had 1st-and-goal from the four yard line earlier in the drive. 

After Hillsdale took a 7 – 3 lead, the Lakers again entered the red zone on their next pos­session and threatened to regain the lead. 

Hillsdale’s defense made another stand, allowing only five yards on three straight rushing attempts to set up 4th-and-goal from the one yard line. Instead of running the ball for a fourth con­sec­utive play, the Lakers elected to pass. 

The play broke down, and an ill-advised throw ended up in the hands of junior line­backer Dan Shanley, who inter­cepted the pass in the end zone, ending the scoring threat and turning the ball back over to the Chargers’ offense.

“I was reading the quarterback’s eyes and could tell that he was kind of in a panic,” Shanley said. “He didn’t really have any open receivers. I saw him look back toward their fullback who was right in my zone. I got to my spot and just made a play on the ball.” 

The Chargers nearly turned the inter­ception into points, but sophomore kicker Joe Philipp nar­rowly missed a 35-yard field goal on the ensuing drive. 

Both defenses settled in for the rest of the quarter, and allowed only 21 yards com­bined on the final five drives of the first half, com­pared to 244 yards from scrimmage in the game’s first four series. 

“After those first couple of drives, we settled in,” Shanley said of Hillsdale’s defensive unit. “The first couple of drives we had a tough time getting off on third down, but once we settled down, we figured out what they were going to do, and battled their game plan and what they were throwing at us.” 

After the Chargers extended their lead to two scores to begin the second half, both teams were held scoreless until the first first play of the fourth quarter, when the Lakers trimmed Hillsdale’s lead to 14 – 9 on a 16-yard touchdown pass. 

The Chargers forced two punts and a turnover on downs in Mercyhurst’s final three pos­ses­sions of the game to seal the victory. 

Hillsdale’s defensive grit in the fourth quarter was just the con­clusion of a pivotal per­for­mance all night long. The longest play from scrimmage the Chargers allowed was the 16-yard touchdown, and Mer­cy­hurst con­verted only four of 14 third down attempts and one of three fourth down attempts. The Lakers managed just nine points despite having the ball inside Hillsdale’s 10 yard line three times. 

The Chargers didn’t display as much fire­power on offense as they believe they are capable of, but in the end, they weathered the storm in more ways than one to come out on top.

“It was opening week. When it comes down to it, my job is to get us into the best play pos­sible and to get us into the best sit­u­ation pos­sible to win the football game,” Stewart said. “At the end of the day, there are a lot of things I need to work on, but we’re 1 – 0.”

The Chargers face a chal­lenging task this weekend when they travel to the Upper Peninsula to play Michigan Tech Uni­versity. Hillsdale defeated Tech at home last season, 31 – 27. Kickoff on Sat­urday is at 1 p.m.

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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.