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Austin San­dusky lines up before a play during a game earlier this season. (Cal Abbo | Col­legian)

The Hillsdale College Chargers fell in their regular season finale, 34 – 24 against the Uni­versity of Indi­anapolis Grey­hounds on the road on Sat­urday. Hillsdale fin­ishes the regular season 9 – 2 and 8 – 0 in the G-MAC. 

The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for Hillsdale. The Grey­hounds were the third nationally-ranked team Hillsdale has played this season. The Chargers beat the first two. But despite the result, the Chargers were selected to compete in the NCAA Division II playoffs for just the third time in school history.

“There’s stuff to work on. By no means do you come out and think you’re a world-beater,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “This reality check helps refocus our guys. I don’t look at it as a neg­ative.”

The loss drops Hillsdale to No. 23 in the national rankings. Indi­anapolis remains at No. 12. The Chargers were tied with the Grey­hounds at seven at the end of the first quarter, 14 at halftime, and 17 at the end of the third quarter.

A 64-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 35-yard touchdown pass gave Indi­anapolis the edge in the fourth quarter, and senior quar­terback Chance Stewart threw an inter­ception on Hillsdale’s final pos­session to seal the win for the Grey­hounds.

“We know we can win those games,” Stewart said. “We didn’t execute on both sides of the ball and on special teams. We’ll watch the film, flush it and move on, and get ready to go for Sat­urday.”

Hillsdale got the ball to begin the game, but a blocked field goal attempt kept the Chargers off the board on their first drive. 

On Hillsdale’s second drive, however, junior running back Christian Shepler’s two-yard touchdown run put the Chargers ahead, 7 – 0. The scoring drive was punc­tuated by a 63-yard pass from Stewart to sophomore tight end Martin Petersen that moved the ball inside the Grey­hounds’ five yard line.

The back-and-forth began, and Indi­anapolis tied the game before the end of the first quarter. Junior running back David Graham’s 14th touchdown run of the season, a one-yard score, put the Chargers back ahead in the second quarter.

Indi­anapolis tied the game at 14 before halftime and took a 17 – 14 lead with a field goal early in the third quarter. Sophomore kicker Joe Philipp’s 32-yard field goal tied the game at 17 until the Grey­hounds took the lead for good in the fourth quarter. 

Stewart con­nected with senior wide receiver Trey Brock for com­ple­tions of 38 and 30 yards on con­sec­utive plays for Hillsdale’s only score of the fourth quarter. The 30-yard com­pletion went for a touchdown, Brock’s 14th touchdown reception of the year. 

Stewart com­pleted 16 of 29 passes for 221 yards. With at least one more game remaining in his career at Hillsdale, Stewart is just 107 yards shy of Troy Weatherhead’s school record for passing yards, at 9,544.

Stewart has already set single-season career highs in com­ple­tions, passing yards, and passing touch­downs in his senior year. He said he’s grateful for the chance to play in a playoff game this weekend.

“I get to play another football game for Hillsdale. Just really happy and thankful for the oppor­tunity,” Stewart said. “To be able to be on this team is pretty special. Really excited for the oppor­tunity.” 

Brock’s 14 touch­downs are a single-season career high, and fourth-most in all of NCAA Division II. He caught eight passes for 124 yards on Sat­urday, his sixth game this season with 100 or more receiving yards. In his four-year career at Hillsdale, Brock has at least 100 receiving yards in 23 of the 42 games he’s played in. 

On the defensive side, the Chargers allowed 269 rushing yards, the most in a game this season. Senior defensive back Wyatt Bat­dorff said the Grey­hounds’ spread offense led to their big day on the ground. Hillsdale’s run defense is typ­i­cally one of the team’s strengths, as it allows the third-fewest yards per game in the con­ference.

“They made the gaps much wider and that makes it harder for the line­backers and defensive backs to make tackles,” Bat­dorff said. “That was a little bit unchar­ac­ter­istic of us. If we go back to our basics, we should be fine.”

Bat­dorff led the defense with nine total tackles, and is second on the team with 82 tackles this season. Senior line­backer Jay Rose, who had six tackles on Sat­urday, leads the team this season with 86.

Bat­dorff also said the loss may serve to bring the team down to earth after going more than two months without losing. But he remains con­fident in the team’s prospects during the playoffs. 

“It puts us into a reality check a little. We’re still a good team, but it humbles us a little,” Bat­dorff said. “I think it’ll help that we actually have to work much harder to win games. We can’t just roll up and expect to win. You’ve gotta put a lot more effort into it.”