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)

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.”