Despite short spurts of playmaking brilliance, the Hillsdale College Chargers ultimately sputtered and spiraled to a 29 – 14 loss against the Michigan Tech University Huskies on Saturday. The loss is the Chargers’ first at home in nearly two calendar years.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Luke Keller’s college career got off to a rough start, as he lost his top receiving target, junior wide receiver K.J. Maloney, to injury. after Maloney was hit while airborne attempting to haul in a pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
On the Chargers’ second drive of the game, Keller’s fourth pass of the afternoon was intercepted, leading to a field goal that put Michigan Tech ahead early, 3 – 0. But on Keller’s very next pass, he connected with redshirt freshman wide receiver Joey Bentley for a 73-yard touchdown down the right sideline to give Hillsdale its only lead of the game.
Ultimately, Keller finished the game just 8‑for-22 passing with 169 yards and two touchdowns, both to Bentley. He also threw two interceptions, was sacked three times, and fumbled three times. Fortunately, the Huskies recovered only one of the fumbles.
“[Luke] was okay. I don’t think I did a very good job of getting him into a comfort zone with play selection,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “That’s more on me, giving us a better opportunity to get to third and manageable versus third and long. We’ve gotta execute better, but we can certainly have better play selection to provide better opportunities.”
The Chargers certainly struggled with long third-down distances, and convertinged only two of 11 third down opportunities in the game. Despite the heavy pressure and difficult down-and-distance situations, Otterbein said he thought Keller still showed signs of what he can be.
“There were some things that I know he will recognize better,” Otterbein said. “Overall, I think he showed some composure. I don’t think I saw him get rattled. He seemed calm and confident in what we were doing.”
Without Maloney to go to in the air, Keller’s top target was Bentley. Bentley, who was listed as a quarterback on the team’s roster before the season began, has burst onto the scene as a legitimate option to receive instead of throw in the passing game.
“He’s very athletic and a good natural athlete and catches the ball well,” Otterbein said of Bentley. “He’s got some good instincts and athleticism.”
In addition to his two touchdown receptions, Bentley caught four passes total for 102 yards in his collegiate debut. Keller also connected with junior tight end Martin Peterson two times for 30 yards, senior running back David Graham once for 24 yards, and redshirt freshman running back Kyle Nyboer once for 13 yards.
Graham, the team’s starting running back, rushed the ball just nine times for 15 yards. Because of the team’s bevy of plays resulting in negative yardage, the Chargers finished the game with negative-nine rushing yards, compared to Michigan Tech’s 214.
“We won’t necessarily beat ourselves up about it because they were pretty stout on both sides of the line of scrimmage and controlled the whole line,” Otterbein said. “We’ve had some guys that are banged up and had limited work together, and unfortunately it showed on Saturday up front.”
A turning point in the game occurred within the final 30 seconds of the first half. The Huskies capped off a 10-play, 72-yard drive with a touchdown to extend their lead to 17 – 7 with 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter, but then recovered the kickoff because of muffed coverage by Hillsdale’s special teams unit.
Two plays later, the Huskies added another touchdown and headed into the locker room with a 23 – 7 halftime lead. Overall, Michigan Tech possessed the ball for more than 41 minutes to Hillsdale’s less than 19 minutes.
“At a point, you can’t be out there 40 minutes,” Otterbein said. “We’ve gotta do a better job on offense of holding onto the ball and not creating bad field position for the defense. At a point, it just wears you down.”
The Chargers had a couple of flashy performances on the defensive side of the ball, led by sophomore defensive back Zach Herzog’s 20 total tackles. His performance earned him the G‑MAC Defensive Player of the Week Award.
Senior defensive back Drake Temple intercepted two passes, one in the end zone, to slow the Huskies’ passing attack. The Chargers forced four turnovers in total, but Michigan Tech put together enough quality scoring drives to create distance from Hillsdale on the scoreboard.
“It just seemed all day long, any time we tried to get some momentum going, it disappeared really fast,” Otterbein said.
The Chargers travel to play the University of Indianapolis on Saturday at 6 p.m. Although Hillsdale’s week one loss has dropped the team from the NCAA Division II national rankings, the Greyhounds (1 – 0) remain in the top 25 at no. 15.
Hillsdale lost to Indianapolis, 34 – 24, in its final game of the 2018 regular season. The Chargers last beat the Greyhounds in 2016, but haven’t won at Indianapolis since 2008.
“It’s a long season. I think we can be a good football team,” Otterbein said. We certainly didn’t play to the level we’ve got to. We’ve gotta get back to work and identify the mistakes and improve and put together a game plan and get ready to go down to Indy.”