This past Saturday, the Hillsdale College Charger football team capped off homecoming week with a 38 – 31 come-from-behind victory over the Missouri S&T Miners to grab their first win of the season.
The win came despite injuries to first-string quarterback Luke Keller, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear, and second-string quarterback Jake Burger, who was injured on a quarterback draw off the left end.
Redshirt sophomore Garrit Aissen stepped up in their absence, taking his first in-game snaps as a Charger. In his quarter and a half of play, he passed for 44 yards with just one incompletion, as he led the Chargers on the last two scoring drives of the game.
“Garrit did a nice job and I think performed very, very well,” Head Coach Keith Otterbein said. “He’s been chomping at the bit for an opportunity on game day, and it was in the heat of the battle and he performed very, very well.”
The Miners returned the first kickoff of the game 86 yards to the Charger 9 yard line, but the Charger defense held them to a field goal. After trading punts, the Charger offense would drive 45 yards down the field, culminating in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Keller to redshirt freshman wide receiver Isaac TeSlaa, making the score 7 – 3 Chargers.
The Miners retaliated quickly and thoroughly, however, scoring 21 unanswered points and taking a 24 – 7 lead with 10:05 left in the first half. Keller was injured three plays later after picking up 21 yards on a scramble play, but second-stringer Jake Burger stepped in to complete the drive, culminating in a 30-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Julian Lee to make the score 24 – 10.
Lee finished with one field goal for 30 yards, and went five-of-five on extra points. He won G‑MAC Football Special Teams Player of the Week for his effort. He is a perfect 11-for-11 on extra points and 4‑for‑4 on field goals, which makes him one of eight kickers in Division II with a perfect field goal percentage with more than three attempts.
After a Charger interception and then a lost fumble, senior Matt Harding intercepted quarterback Luke Hertzler and returned the ball 89 yards to the Miners 1‑yard line, setting up a touchdown run by Burger to make the score 24 – 17 at halftime.
Senior defensive lineman Nate Chambers, who finished the game with 9 tackles and 2 sacks, commented on the team’s improvement as the game progressed.
“There was no magic spell or whatever that fixed everything,” Chambers said. “It was just everyone doing their job and flying around and playing confident.”
After receiving the second half kickoff, Burger led the Charger offense on a 71-yard drive, where once again the backup QB took it himself for a 1‑yard touchdown run to tie the game at 24. The Miners opened the following drive with a 50-yard pass from Hertzler to Breon Michel, eventually leading to another Miner touchdown, making the score 31 – 24.
Burger was injured on the following drive, and replaced by Garrett Aissen, who led the Chargers on a nearly seven-minute long drive that culminated with redshirt freshman Jack Robinson rushing for a touchdown with 14:57 left in the game.
Aissen spoke on his experience coming in after Burger’s injury.
“After my first play I was calm and collected. It just felt like practice,” Aissen said. “I was definitely nervous going into that first play but right away I got a completion, and I felt the whole team was around me cheering me on.”
The next drive, redshirt freshman defensive back Bart Bixler blocked the Miner’s punt attempt, setting up Aissen, who threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Michael Harding, giving the Chargers their first lead since the first quarter, 38 – 31. After two stops by the Charger defense, Aissen and the Charger offense bled the last 4:53 of the game and Hillsdale gained their first win on the season.
Robinson said the home atmosphere had a big impact on the game.
“I think the home field advantage definitely played to our favor and was real in that game,” said Robinson. “Especially when we blocked that punt, you could feel the momentum.”
The Chargers will travel to Ohio to play the 3 – 1 Tiffin Dragons next Saturday. Otterbein said he is happy with the trajectory of his team.
“I think we got better this week,” said Otterbein. “Continued improvement I think is key. Not to take steps backwards, which I think maybe we did week two and week three. Correct some of the mistakes, capitalize on some of the things we’re doing well, and gear the game to our strengths if we possibly can.”