With their conference championship chances on the line, the Hillsdale College Chargers weren’t able to pull off what would have been the upset of the season on Saturday, falling to the No. 25 Tiffin University Dragons in Tiffin, Ohio, 35 – 24.
The Chargers remained competitive with the Dragons in nearly every facet of the game, taking advantage of Tiffin’s mistakes, responding to the Dragons’ scoring drives with scoring drives of their own, and trailed just 21 – 17 at halftime.
“Our message was ‘Don’t blink. Don’t flinch. Play the next play. Whatever happens, happens. Keep playing,’” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “Our guys did a phenomenal job with that. We were slugging. We were swinging. It was a heavyweight bout.”
In the second half, however, Hillsdale’s offense couldn’t convert any of its three fourth-and-short attempts, and the Dragons were able to continue pounding the ball in the run game and benefited from some big plays to create a 35 – 17 cushion by the fourth quarter.
“We don’t regret the choice to go for it, but maybe there were better ways to get there,” Otterbein said of the offense’s inability to convert fourth down attempts. “Play selection and getting the best way to convert [fourth downs] is on me.”
Where Tiffin pulled away from Hillsdale was in its lethal running attack. The Dragons ran for 274 total yards to the Chargers’ 116. That equated to Tiffin gaining 6.1 yards per carry and Hillsdale gaining only 2.8 per carry.
“We gave up some big runs, and at critical times. Just tackle the quarterback and running back in space, and it’s a whole different ballgame,” Otterbein said. “Those two guys are big headaches for any defense.”
The Chargers forced four turnovers, one on a fumble, and the other three courtesy of senior defensive back Drake Temple’s three interceptions, a single-game career high. Temple now has six interceptions total this year, a single-season high.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Luke Keller completed 12 of 28 passes for 182 yards. He threw two interceptions and one touchdown, which came in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
Keller’s top target in the passing game on Saturday was again junior wide receiver K.J. Maloney, who caught four passes for 75 yards and a touchdown, which came from 22 yards out in the fourth quarter.
Senior running back David Graham carried the ball 23 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns. He’s now rushed for 993 yards this season, and has rushed for 15 touchdowns this season.
Hillsdale (6 – 4, 4 – 2 G‑MAC) will close its season on Saturday when it hosts the Ohio Dominican University Panthers (6 – 2, 5 – 1). The Chargers defeated the Panthers in Ohio last season, 34 – 18.
“By no means did the bubble burst after Saturday’s loss. We’re gonna go undefeated this week for a lot of reasons,” Otterbein said. “We showed up in August knowing we were going to go through a lot of peaks and valleys this year.”