Although the win-loss column might not show it, a corner may have been turned for the Hillsdale College football team Saturday afternoon.
The Chargers showed flashes of brilliance on both sides of the ball, but in the end, could not match the playmaking of Ohio Dominican University, a national quarterfinalist from last season. The Panthers rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to post a 34-29 win over the Chargers at Frank "Muddy" Waters Stadium. The loss drops Hillsdale to 1-5 overall and 1-4 in the GLIAC.
After dominating the first half, Hillsdale held a 20-7 lead on the Panthers, and was clearly sparked by the first collegiate start of redshirt-freshman quarterback Chance Stewart. Stewart threw for 215 yards in the first half alone, finishing with 294 in the game, along with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Stewart, a 6-foot-5 rifleman from nearby Sturgis, transferred to Hillsdale from Western Michigan in the summer, and despite having just a few days' worth of work with his fellow starters, played with the poise and skill of a veteran. Stewart made hard, accurate throws, kept his composure in the face of the relentless pressure from the Panther defense, and made his first collegiate touchdown one to remember.
He found senior H-back Alex Fogt on a wheel route down the near sideline in the first quarter, lofting a high-arcing pass that caught Fogt perfectly in stride for what ended up being a 90-yard touchdown completion, the second-longest in school history. That one play brought a new level of life to everyone on the team, and the Charger defense fed off that energy in the first half.
Led by the destructive play of defensive lineman Drew Mallery, Hillsdale limited ODU to just 7 points and 99 total yards in the first half. Mallery was second on the team with 8 total tackles and had 3 ½ tackles for loss, 2 ½ of them on sacks.
Junior kicker Steven Mette booted two first-half field goals, and an amazing third-down pass from Stewart to sophomore Brian Newman set up a one-yard touchdown run by Wade Wood to close out the first half.
However, ODU flipped the script in the second half, marching down the field in eight plays, covering 65 yards to open the second half with a touchdown to make it 20-14. Mette's third field goal of the day increased Hillsdale's lead to nine, 23-14, but it would be short-lived.
ODU scored on the second play of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 23-21. Hillsdale's next possession consisted of a one-yard loss on a rush, a penalty, then an interception, setting the Panthers up at the Hillsdale 41-yard-line. Ohio Dominican covered 33 yards on its next two runs, setting up the go-ahead score with 12:14 left in the game.
Hillsdale got stuffed on a fourth-and-one on its next drive, and the Panthers answered with a 55-yard pass, setting up its third score of the fourth quarter.
The Chargers had some life left, though. Stewart ran for 25 yards and threw for 30 on the team's next possession, resulting in a Stewart-to-Trey Brock 13-yard touchdown pass with 4:19 left in the game.
Hillsdale outgained Ohio Dominican 440-365 yards in the contest, the fewest yards allowed by the Charger defense this year. One negative for the Chargers is that they were whistled for an uncharacteristic seven penalties in the game. Hillsdale came into the contest as the least-penalized team in Division II.
Stewart was 19-for-40 for his 294 yards, averaging more than 15 yards per completion. He also ran for 26 yards in the loss. Redshirt-freshman Joe Reverman led the team with 57 rushing yards, while John Haley hauled in 5 passes for 74 yards. Fogt had 2 catches for 95 yards, and Newman had 5 catches for 57 yards.
UP NEXT: Hillsdale travels to Ashland for a 1:00 kickoff against the Eagles.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Klopfer