Joe Bentley receives a touchdown pass against Michigan Tech on Sept. 7 (Liam Bred­berger | Col­legian)

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.”

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Nathan is a junior at Hillsdale College studying Rhetoric and Public Address and Journalism. He is Sports Editor and beat reporter for the Football, Women's Basketball, and Baseball teams for the Hillsdale Collegian. When he's not watching or writing about sports, Nathan enjoys playing organ and singing. Originally from St. Louis Missouri, Nathan now lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You can follow Nathan on twitter @nategrime or Hillsdale Collegian Sports at @HDaleSports.