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David Graham hurdles a defender during Hills­dale’s second-round playoff game against Notre Dame College last November. Graham has rushed for 34 touch­downs in the past two seasons. (Picture: S. Nathaniel Grime | Col­legian)

The Hillsdale College Chargers lost their first G‑MAC game of the season, and first in more than two years, 41 – 16, against the Uni­versity of Findlay Oilers on Sat­urday. The loss drops the Chargers to 4 – 3 overall and places them among three G‑MAC teams with one con­ference loss in 2019.

“There was never any­thing to ignite us,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “We were punching away and banging away, but we never got that incident to capture the momentum and put them on their heels.”

After the Chargers punted on their first offensive pos­session of the game, the Oilers drove the ball 60 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown to take a first-quarter lead. Hillsdale responded with a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive to take a 7 – 6 lead early in the second quarter thanks to red­shirt freshman quar­terback Luke Keller’s 17-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Alec Foos.

The Chargers’ only lead of the afternoon was brief, however, as the Oilers found the end zone on their final three drives of the first half to build a 27 – 7 lead by halftime. A fumble and a failed fourth-down con­version attempt by Hillsdale’s offense set Findlay up with prime field position for two of its scoring drives.

Otterbein said the team needs to do a better job moving forward at both heading into halftime strong and beginning the second half strong.

“In all three of our losses, the middle eight minutes of the game it seems right before halftime we went from a man­ageable deficit to a pretty big deficit and then coming out of halftime added fuel to the fire,” Otterbein said. “We’ve gotta finish the first half better and start the second half better in order to be a better football team.”

In the Chargers’ three losses this season, they’ve been outscored in the second quarter 61 – 14 and in the third quarter 28 – 10. In their four wins, they’ve outscored their oppo­nents in the second quarter 37 – 21 and in the third quarter 27 – 17.

“You scratch your head because they’ve all been dif­ferent,” Otterbein said of the reason his team has struggled imme­di­ately before and after halftime in its losses this year. “Some­times it’s just the way the game unfolds. It’s more of an ana­lytical thing than any­thing we can truly correct, but I think we’ll remind them and our­selves of the impor­tance of a fast start and a good finish.”

The Chargers turned the ball over two more times in the second half, and could never get the momentum shifted back in their favor. 

“They’ve got a lot of weapons,so our sense of urgency needed to be a little more intense in a game like that,” Otterbein said. “You’ve gotta create your own breaks to do that.”

Findlay didn’t turn the ball over, and didn’t allow any sacks to Hillsdale’s defense, while the Oilers’ defensive rush sacked Keller five times.

“We had too many neg­ative hits on offense which created third and longs for us,” Otterbein said. “I also didn’t think we put enough pressure on the quar­terback.”

Keller com­pleted 19 of 31 passes overall for 251 yards. Keller has com­pleted more than 60 percent of his passes and thrown for more than 220 yards for three con­sec­utive weeks. His third-quarter inter­ception was the first he’s thrown since Sept. 28.

Keller con­nected with seven dif­ferent targets in the air and six dif­ferent targets at least twice. Foos led the receiving unit in yardage with four catches for 75 yards, both season-highs.

On the ground, senior running back David Graham carried the ball 16 times for 64 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. The touchdown was Graham’s seventh on the ground this season, and secured his fifth con­sec­utive week finding the end zone. 

“Had it been a close football game, I thought we may have been more pro­ductive offen­sively. Game sit­u­a­tions dictate how aggressive you’re gonna be in your play­calling,” Otterbein said. “Even with the neg­ative hits and the sacks, some of those can dis­appear if you’re estab­lishing the run a little more on first and second down. We had some good stuff offen­sively that was working early, but couldn’t get back to it.”

With four games remaining in the regular season, the Chargers still have a shot to repeat as G‑MAC cham­pions in 2019, though they may need some help. Their road begins this Sat­urday when they host the Ken­tucky Wes­leyan College Pan­thers (0 – 7, 0 – 4 G‑MAC). The Chargers defeated the Pan­thers last season, 34 – 0.

The Tiffin Uni­versity Dragons, whom the Chargers play on Nov. 9, are alone in first place in the con­ference with a 4 – 0 record. The Oilers’ win against Hillsdale improved their con­ference record to 4 – 1, and the Ohio Dominican Uni­versity Pan­thers, who will visit Hillsdale for the regular-season finale on Nov. 16, are 3 – 1 in the con­ference.

For the Chargers to win the con­ference out­right, they’d need to win their final four games of the regular season and rely on the Oilers to drop another G‑MAC game. Findlay has just two con­ference games remaining, against Lake Erie College (3 – 4, 2 – 2) and Tiffin (6 – 1, 4 – 0).

“Every game is a cham­pi­onship game now. You’ve taken away any kind of wiggle room,” Otterbein said. “But the big games don’t become big games unless you get there. The focus isn’t nec­es­sarily long-range, it’s short-range, and it’s putting together the game plan, learning the game plan, and exe­cuting the game plan.”