The Hillsdale College Chargers are G‑MAC champions.
On Saturday, the Chargers defeated the previously undefeated Tiffin University Dragons 48 – 26 to improve to 9 – 1 this season and finish the year a perfect 8 – 0 against G‑MAC opponents. The victory moved Hillsdale up to No. 20 in the NCAA Division II rankings and No. 5 in the regional rankings.
Senior wide receiver Trey Brock, who already broke Hillsdale’s all-time records in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns this season, caught a single-game career-high four touchdowns in the win.
The conference championship is Hillsdale’s first since 2011, when the team won the GLIAC with an 8 – 3 record. The 2011 team’s final victory of its conference schedule also came against Tiffin. The Chargers have one more game remaining on their regular season schedule, and it comes against a non-conference rival, No. 12 University of Indianapolis, on the road this Saturday.
“Really proud of this football team. They prepared, they went to work every week and trusted the process of learning the game plan and practicing the game plan,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “The thing that really is impressive about this group is there’s a tendency when you’re on a run like that to get a little complacent and think you don’t have to continue to work, but we kept getting better. Today we probably played as well collectively as we have the whole season.”
In the most consequential game at Frank “Muddy” Waters Stadium in years, Tiffin moved the ball 96 yards for a touchdown on its first possession of the game to take an early 6 – 0 lead.
The Chargers responded on their first possession of the game with a touchdown, thanks in part to a third-down pass interference penalty against Tiffin that kept the drive alive. On the seventh play of the drive, senior quarterback Chance Stewart found Brock in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown and Hillsdale took a 7 – 6 lead with the extra point.
The score marked Brock’s fourth consecutive game with a touchdown reception, but he and Stewart were only getting started.
Tiffin retook the lead on its next possession with a field goal, but junior running back David Graham’s 14-yard touchdown run put the Chargers ahead 14 – 9. Twice on the scoring drive, Hillsdale gained first downs on third-down attempts thanks to penalties against Tiffin.
The Dragons were penalized eight times in the game, while the Chargers committed only one penalty. Hillsdale is the least penalized team in all of NCAA Division II.
Sophomore kicker Joe Philipp added a field goal on Hillsdale’s third drive to extend the lead to 17 – 9, and it appeared that the Chargers would head to the locker room at halftime with the lead.
In the final 99 seconds of the second quarter, however, the Dragons turned the tables. A field goal cut Hillsdale’s lead to 17 – 12, and after the Chargers’ offense went three-and-out, Tiffin moved the ball 55 yards in less than a minute to score a touchdown and take a 19 – 17 lead at the half.
“I’m thankful that my lack of time management at the end of the first half didn’t cost us the game,” Otterbein said. “We should have got the clock down more, but after 40 years, I’m still learning.”
The Chargers got the ball to begin the third quarter, and two completions to Brock, one for 59 yards and the second for a 13-yard touchdown, was enough for Hillsdale to quickly regain the lead. This time, the Chargers wouldn’t relinquish it.
On Tiffin’s next possession, freshman defensive lineman Kyle Parran got to the quarterback for a sack and forced a fumble to getthe ball back to the Chargers’ offense. Parran collected three sacks and four tackles for loss on the day in the best game of his career. The performance earned him the G‑MAC Defensive Player of the Week award.
Philipp’s second field goal of the game extended Hillsdale’s lead to eight points. Philipp went 2‑for‑2 on field goals and 6‑for‑6 on extra points, earning him his second G‑MAC Special Teams Player of the Week award this season.
Hillsdale’s defense forced another turnover on the Dragons’ next possession. This time it was senior defensive back Carter Wilson who forced a fumble after a completion. Wilson also played arguably the best game of his career, and his performance was even more impressive when considering he was removed from the game during the first half because of an injury that prevented him from walking off the field under his own power.
Stewart connected with Brock for a third time, a four-yard score, to build a two-touchdown lead. Although Tiffin cut the deficit back to one touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Brock’s fourth touchdown reception on an acrobatic catch in the back of the end zone and a one-yard quarterback sneak by Stewart for a touchdown put the game out of reach. Stewart’s five total touchdowns were a single-game season-high.
“That’s the best way to go out,” Stewart said. “To be able to come out here, win a championship, and play the way we did — it’s really special.”
For Brock, the showcase was just the latest in a remarkable career at Hillsdale. Already at the top of the Hillsdale record books, this performance came in his first opportunity to be on a team that’s on top of the conference.
“It feels great. There was so much hard work put into it,” Brock said. “Our motto for the season was always ‘finish’. That’s something we did with conference, and now we’ve gotta do it next week and beat Indy.”
Brock finished the game with 10 receptions for 156 yards. His 13 touchdown receptions this season are tied for fourth-most in all of NCAA Division II.
Senior linebacker Jay Rose intercepted a pass in the end zone in the game’s closing minute for the Chargers’ third forced turnover of the game.
Perhaps lost in the excitement of the winner coming away with the G‑MAC championship was the fact that the team also celebrated Senior Day in its final home game of the regular season.
The seniors delivered, with Stewart and Brock pacing the offense and Wilson and Rose leading the way on defense.
“They came up big, and we’ve had that all year,” Otterbein said of the seniors’ performance. “Our seniors are playing phenomenal, and they’re doing a great job at the end of their careers.”
Winning a championship on Senior Day was a culmination of not only a record season for the Chargers, but a multi-year process, according to Stewart.
“This team’s got a lot left. We’re excited, we’re going to enjoy this. We really are,” Stewart said. “It’s taken a lot. It wasn’t just this past year, this has been years in the making. Finally this year, stuff has been coming together for us.”
The Chargers’ defense allowed just 93 yards on the ground to Tiffin, one of the G‑MAC’s best rushing offenses entering play. Hillsdale also collected four sacks, a single-game season-high.
“Unbelievable job against the run today,” Otterbein said. “They have some real skill, and the quarterback did a nice job of getting rid of the ball quickly. When we had opportunities to get pressure, we got a little bit of pressure on him.”
With the regular season G‑MAC championship in the bag, the Chargers’ chances to make the NCAA Division II playoffs look better than ever. A win on Saturday against Indianapolis would ensure a spot in the tournament. A loss would muddy the picture, but Hillsdale’s resume might be strong enough already to maintain a spot in the top seven of the Super Region I rankings.
Otterbein isn’t worried about the details. He knows that a G‑MAC championship is nice, but the first thing he said after Saturday’s win?
“We’ve got a game next week. We’ve gotta get ready for Indy.”
Indianapolis defeated Hillsdale last season, 45 – 38. Indy was ranked No. 14 at the time, while the Chargers were unranked.
“We’re going to take this as the first round of the playoffs and get prepared that way and hopefully our guys will put in the same kind of time and effort that they did this week,” Otterbein said.
In last year’s loss to Indy, Stewart threw for 485 yards, a school record for passing yards in a single game.
“There’s going to be fireworks,” Stewart said. “It’s another great opportunity; you can’t really ask for a better way to go out than in your senior year against two ranked opponents. It’s going to be a really fun week.”