The Hillsdale College Chargers cleared another big hurdle in their quest for a G‑MAC Championship on Saturday, defeating the University of Findlay Oilers on the road, 20 – 17, in an instant classic.
Sophomore kicker Joe Philipp’s 51-yard field goal in the final minutes of the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner, and the Chargers’ defense stood tall on the Oilers’ final drive, forcing a fumble inches away from the goal line.
“They played really well. Played well against the run,” head coach Keith Otterbein said of his defense’s performance. “At times, we didn’t tackle great, but they came up with some big third down stops, and just played their guts out.”
The Chargers quickly fell behind 10 – 0, but battled back in the second quarter with a pair of touchdowns to take a 14 – 10 lead by halftime.
Junior running back David Graham’s 1‑yard touchdown rush put Hillsdale on the board, and sophomore tight end Martin Petersen’s 8‑yard touchdown reception from senior quarterback Chance Stewart with just over three minutes remaining in the half completed a 9‑play, 96-yard drive that put the Chargers ahead.
The Oilers scored a touchdown midway through the third quarter to take a 17 – 14 lead. Sophomore kicker Joe Philipp, who missed a 48-yard field goal attempt earlier in the third quarter, responded with a 33-yarder to tie the game at 17.
Philipp missed an opportunity to give Hillsdale the lead midway through the fourth quarter, when he hooked a 29-yard attempt. But Hillsdale’s defense again made a stop, forcing a turnover on downs when senior defensive back Wyatt Batdorff stuffed a 4th-and‑1 rushing attempt at the Chargers’ 31 yard line.
That stop gave the Chargers’ offense one more chance to take the lead. A pair of personal foul penalties against Findlay allowed Hillsdale to move the ball into the Oilers’ territory, but the Chargers’ drive stalled when a third down play lost eight yards, pushing Hillsdale back to Findlay’s 34-yard line. That’s when Otterbein turned to Philipp.
“Coach asked if I had enough leg to kick that field goal, I saw that we had a little bit of wind in our favor when I looked up, so I told him ‘Yep, I have enough leg,’” Philipp said. “So he said ‘Alright, let’s give it a shot.’”
While the wind had been gusting toward Philipp during his kicks all day long, the wind was at his back when he lined up for the 51-yard attempt, the longest field goal he’s attempted to kick during a game all his life.
The snap and hold were clean, and the kick split the uprights with room to spare. The Chargers led, 20 – 17.
“I was just trying to focus on the fundamentals and letting the wind do the rest with the ball and hopefully having enough leg behind it to make it,” Philipp said. “When it hit my foot it felt pretty good, and I was just hoping I would have the right accuracy. When we looked up, it was going through the uprights, and we were pretty happy.”
The field goal was the longest by a Chargers kicker in 16 years, and the longest in the three-year history of the G‑MAC. The kick earned Philipp the G‑MAC Special Teams Player of the Week award.
After the field goal, the Oilers’ offense had 86 seconds to try to tie the game or take the lead. Beginning at the 20 yard line, Findlay moved the ball 70 yards to the Chargers’ 10 yard line and took a timeout with 14 seconds remaining.
On the next play, the Oilers ran a trick play in which their quarterback caught a pass out of the backfield after handing the ball off to a sweeping wide receiver. As he was being tackled, reaching for the goal line, junior defensive back Drake Temple knocked the ball free, where it trickled into the end zone and Batdorff recovered for a touchback.
“He tried to stretch for the goal line and it came out, you could see that, and our guys got on it in the end zone,” Otterbein said. “It was a heck of a call for them, but the break went our way.”
With just seven seconds left, the Chargers took a knee and the clock ran out, giving Hillsdale an extraordinary 20 – 17 win. Though the Oilers came just inches away from taking the lead with less than 10 seconds left in the game, it was Philipp’s 51-yard boot that stood as the consequential distance.
Though he missed a pair of field goals earlier in the game, Philipp said his mind was only set on the potential positive outcome as he trotted onto the field to attempt what would be the game-winning kick.
“He’s mentally tough. Just to go on to the next play, that’s what we talk about all the time, and Joe did that,” Otterbein said. “Just really proud of him. He banged the heck out of it, and we’re happy about the win.”
Stewart completed 25 of 41 passes in the win, and seven different receivers had at least two receptions. A week after 10 passing plays went for 20 or more yards against Malone University, Stewart’s longest completion of the afternoon was 18 yards.
“They took away some things that we thought we were going to get a little bit,” Stewart said. “Just had to dump the ball down sometimes, not be too greedy, and take what they gave us.”
Hillsdale’s defense continued its stingy scoring prevention, holding the Oilers’ offense to just 10 points. Findlay’s first touchdown came on special teams. The Oilers had been averaging more than 46 points per game before playing Hillsdale. The Chargers are the only team in the G‑MAC to limit opponents, on average, below 20 points per game.
Temple had his best game of the season for the Chargers, making 10 total tackles in addition to his forced fumble at the goal line. He also made an acrobatic interception during the second quarter inside the Chargers’ 5 yard line, thwarting a scoring threat for the Oilers.
With the win, the Chargers are now 5 – 1 and 4 – 0 in the G‑MAC. Tiffin University (6 – 1, 3 – 0 G‑MAC) is the only other G‑MAC team undefeated against conference opponents. Hillsdale plays Tiffin in its final conference game of the season on Nov. 3.
While the Chargers’ performance in the conference this season might come as a surprise to some outside of Hillsdale, Stewart said the team is doing exactly what it expected before the season began.
“We knew who we were going into the year,” Stewart said. “We went out there and have been accomplishing what we thought we could, and now it’s just a matter of doing that week in and week out.”
Hillsdale finished 5 – 2 in the conference last season, with its only conference losses coming against Ohio Dominican University and Findlay. The Chargers have now defeated both teams this year.
“This was a big one for this team, for this season, for me personally. It was a big staple win for us this year, and with that win it just makes this week even bigger now,” Stewart said. “Every week keeps getting bigger and bigger, and I know this team’s going to look forward to that challenge.”
Hillsdale returns home this Saturday to host Alderson Broaddus University for a 4 p.m. game. The Battlers are 2 – 4 this season and 1 – 2 in the conference. The Chargers defeated ABU last season, 37 – 31.
“Now it’s all up to us. Beating Findlay and ODU is good, but we still have very important games every week,” Temple said. “We have to prepare for those just like any other game.”