The Hillsdale College Chargers remain undefeated in the G-MAC with a 28 – 9 victory against the Walsh University Cavaliers on Saturday. After the win, the Chargers came in at #25 in the NCAA Division II AFCA national rankings. The team is also ranked seventh in the region.
Saturday’s win is the Chargers’ sixth straight overall with three games remaining on the schedule. Hillsdale (7 – 1, 6 – 0 G-MAC) has already matched its win total from last season, when the team went 7 – 4.
Despite a wet and rainy evening in Canton, Ohio, senior quarterback Chance Stewart threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns against the G-MAC’s top-ranked pass defense entering play. Before Saturday, the Cavaliers had allowed just 164 passing yards per game.
Both teams went scoreless in the first quarter as hail, wind, and sideways rain inhibited either offense from denting the scoreboard.
“In that element, throwing the ball down the field wasn’t going to be very successful,” Stewart said. “For the most part, we were able to move the ball. We didn’t score, but we were able to move the ball and keep them deep in their territory.”
Head coach Keith Otterbein said the Chargers ran the option play more due to the elements, although it was a key part of the game plan entering the contest.
As a result, Stewart carried the ball 15 times for a team-leading 58 yards. Hillsdale held Walsh to just 65 yards rushing and 222 total yards from scrimmage.
“We’re getting pressure on the quarterback and he’s having to hurry his decisions or we’re getting sacks,” Otterbein said. “I think in the secondary our guys are doing a great job of breaking on the ball, being aggressive and we’re knocking balls out. That comes with confidence, being aggressive, flying downhill, and finishing plays.”
As the first half progressed, the precipitation began to clear and the Chargers began to turn yards into points. Midway through the second quarter, Stewart connected with senior tight end John Brennan for a 44-yard completion on a 3rd and 11 to keep a drive alive. Two plays later, sophomore wide receiver K.J. Maloney’s 8-yard touchdown run on an end-around play got Hillsdale on the board.
The Cavaliers responded with a touchdown on their next possession, but a missed extra point ensured the Chargers would never relinquish their lead. Hillsdale led 7 – 6 at halftime.
The Chargers received the ball to begin the second half, and a quick strike from Stewart to senior wide receiver Trey Brock extended Hillsdale’s lead. Brock beat his defender on a deep route for a 61-yard touchdown reception, his seventh of the season. Brock finished the game with four receptions for 94 yards. His 98 receiving yards per game are best in the G-MAC.
Junior running back David Graham carried the ball 18 times for 51 yards and a touchdown. His 10 touchdown rushes this season are the most in the conference.
Graham’s 3-yard touchdown run extended the Chargers’ lead to 21 – 6, and Maloney caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to make the score 28 – 9 in the fourth quarter.
Maloney had a career game, catching eight passes for 125 yards while scoring two total touchdowns. His 45 receptions this season are third-most in the conference, and he and Brock combine to make the best statistical wide receiver combination in the G-MAC. Maloney credits his success this season in part to his quarterback.
“Chance is a great quarterback. He’s been amazing,” Maloney said. “He knows where I should be and is so good at reading the defense and finding the open man. It makes our job as receivers so much easier when he’s putting the ball right where it needs to be.”
Stewart leads the conference in passing per game, averaging 278 yards per contest. He also leads the G-MAC in total offense, netting 297 yards per game. He was the Chargers’ leading rusher on Saturday, carrying the ball 15 times for 58 yards. His 17 touchdown passes this season are tied for the conference lead.
Aside from leading in many of the G-MAC’s quarterbacking statistical categories, Stewart, in his last season, is making a run at Hillsdale’s all-time passing records. His 62 career touchdowns are five short of Troy Weatherhead’s Hillsdale record of 67. Weatherhead is a 2010 graduate.
“People outside might want to make a big deal of that, but my full focus right now is the opportunity we have this week,” Stewart said. “If we take care of our business as a team, that kind of stuff will fall into its place.”
Stewart is also just 846 passing yards shy of Weatherhead’s school record of 9,544 yards. Stewart needs to average 282 passing yards per game in the season’s final three games to tie the record.
That is, if the Chargers have just three games remaining this season.
Hillsdale’s six-game win streak is the longest the team has had since 2009, when it made the NCAA Division II Playoffs. With two G-MAC games left this year, a playoff appearance is a real possibility for the Chargers. But Stewart said the team isn’t taking anything for granted.
“Right now, the team is really hungry,” Stewart said. “No one on this team has ever won a championship. That fire is lit in everybody.”
Hillsdale hosts Kentucky Wesleyan College on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Chargers defeated the Panthers 56 – 0 last season, but they aren’t looking too far ahead. Otterbein’s message to the team is that each win makes the next game more important. He said his team has responded well.
“They’re finishing each practice, each game,” Otterbein said. “Now it’s getting down to the point where it’s time to finish this season.”