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.”