After beginning the season 0 – 2, the Hillsdale College Chargers got into the win column on Saturday with a 34 – 14 victory against the Lake Erie College Storm at Frank “Muddy” Waters Stadium. The win gets the Chargers off to a good start in the G‑MAC, which they won last year with an 8 – 0 conference record.
Senior running back David Graham highlighted the afternoon with three touchdown rushes on 15 carries. He amassed 232 yards in total and was named the G‑MAC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance. He averaged 15.5 yards per carry after averaging just 2.65 yards per carry in the first two games of the season.
“After two tough losses, we had to look inward and really assess what the problem was,” Graham said. “We knew we could be a good team, but we hadn’t played like one yet. We worked really hard in practice and everyone was on the same page with the game plan and we went and executed it.”
Graham’s 232 yards were the first time since 2015 a Hillsdale running back eclipsed 200 yards on the ground in a game. He now has 38 total touchdowns in his career as a Charger, now sixth all-time in program history.
Graham credited Hillsdale’s offensive line for the gaping holes that allowed him to run wild, as well as the wide receivers down the field who cleared even more space for Graham. His first two touchdown carries went for 76 and 55 yards, and got the Chargers out to a 14 – 0 lead toward the end of the second quarter.
The Storm scored before halftime to cut Hillsdale’s lead in half, and trailed only 20 – 14 entering the fourth quarter. Early in the fourth, they lined up for a field goal in an attempt to make it a three-point game, but senior defensive back Drake Temple cut around the line to block the field goal, and senior linebacker Dan Shanley scooped up the loose ball, returning it 74 yards for a momentum-shifting score.
Graham’s third touchdown of the afternoon added on even more insurance for the Chargers, who pulled away in the final quarter for a comfortable margin of victory.
“A point of emphasis moving forward is being more consistent in driving the football,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “That comes down to being more efficient on first and second down so we can be in third and manageable.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Luke Keller struggled in his third career collegiate start despite picking up his first win. He completed only seven of 18 passes and threw three interceptions. Through three games, Keller has thrown five interceptions to four touchdowns.
“I think he got antsy a little bit and chucked it into areas he knows better than to throw it into,” Otterbein said. “A couple were down-field throws, but he’s very capable of seeing those reads and he got a little antsy in the pocket, so he’s just gotta continue to gain experience and slow the game down. There’s a learning curve that goes on that I know Luke will get better at and make better decisions.”
Keller rushed for his first career touchdown on the ground, a one-yard score in the third quarter. That capped off the Chargers’ most methodical drive of the day, an eight-play, 72-yard sequence.
“We’re trying to really focus on making a first and second down pass a high-percentage throw, but you’ve still gotta mix in the shots, just gotta keep that balance going and get a feel for the momentum of the football game,” Otterbein said. “I’ve been probably a little more aggressive than I think we’re ready for at this point with some of those things. The way we’ve had success as a football program is by taking some shots, but we’ve just gotta find that right balance for us.”
The Storm didn’t shy away from throwing the ball often. Lake Erie passed the ball 60 times and racked up 390 yards through the air. The Chargers held them to just 57 yards on the ground, however. That control at the line of scrimmage is always an emphasis for Hillsdale.
“That’s an objective every week,” Otterbein said. “You always want to control the line of scrimmage, and I think we did a good job on both sides of the ball Saturday establishing that. It allows you to be productive on both sides of the ball.”
The Chargers’ defense got into the backfield for seven tackles for loss and two sacks. It also intercepted two passes despite allowing nearly 400 yards in the air. Otterbein said he wasn’t too concerned about Lake Erie’s yardage in the air, but would like to see his secondary be able to make more one-on-one plays moving forward.
“We were in pretty good position, we were right there. I think a lot of it was I don’t feel like we particularly tackled well,” Otterbein said. “I’m more concerned about that than I am about them just throwing a deep ball. We’ve gotta do a way better job in space with tackling.”
Hillsdale again possessed the ball less than its opponent, with its offense being on the field for 25 minutes to Lake Erie’s 35. That difference isn’t as wide as it was in weeks one and two, but Otterbein said the team will continue to monitor the time of possession battle and emphasize staying on the field offensively on third downs and getting of the field on third downs when on defense.
“We always want to have that. I think at times we did a really good job of getting off the field on third down defensively. There was other times where we didn’t,” Otterbein said. “The turnovers had a big factor to do with time of possession.”
The Chargers remain at home this Saturday when they host the Walsh University Cavaliers (0 – 3, 0 – 1 G‑MAC). Hillsdale defeated Walsh on the road last season, 28 – 9. Kickoff on Saturday is at 1 p.m.
After hosting the Cavaliers, Hillsdale plays two more non-conference games before finishing the season against G‑MAC opponents. In the first week of conference play, Ohio Dominican and Tiffin Universities also won their conference games on Saturday.