The first-ever football meeting between Hillsdale College and McKendree University went to the Bearcats Saturday night at Frank "Muddy" Waters Stadium.
McKendree toughened up defensively in the fourth quarter, and successfully ran the clock out with its running game in a 24-21 win over the Chargers before more than 2,000 fans. Hillsdale, now 2-1 on the season, will travel to nationally ranked Indianapolis next Saturday night.
Neither team scored in the final quarter, but McKendree was able to control the play by controlling possession for 10:24 of the fourth quarter while generating six first downs. On defense, McKendree held Hillsdale to five total yards and no first downs in the fourth quarter, killing any chances of a late-game comeback by the Chargers.
For its part, the Hillsdale defense played admirably, and often in difficult field position circumstances. For the game, McKendree's average starting field position was its own 36 yard line, while Hillsdale's was its own 21.
That difference was even more enhanced in the fourth quarter, when the Bearcats were able to down a punt at the Charger 1 yard line. The Chargers' average starting field position in the fourth quarter was their own 13, the deepest of any of the four quarters.
Hillsdale started the game strong, driving in for a touchdown on its opening possession to take a 7-0 lead. Sophomore Christian Shepler scooted in from one yard out for his first career touchdown, coming at the 8:12 mark of the first quarter.
McKendree responded with a score of its own on its next possession, but missed the extra point attempt, allowing the Chargers to hold a 7-6 lead. The Bearcats scored on a 20-yard run on a fourth down to take a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. Hillsdale tied it with 18 seconds to go in the half, when quarterback Chance Stewart found junior Austin Sandusky on a beautifully designed and executed pass play from six yards out.
Hillsdale lost two fumbles in the first half, both leading directly to McKendree's two touchdowns. Being minus-two in the turnover battle, but still entering halftime tied, appeared to be a positive for the Chargers.
After a McKendree field goal, Hillsdale jumped back into the lead with a fourth-down touchdown of its own. Sophomore David Graham cut through the line and up the left hashmark to score the longest touchdown of his young career, a 39-yard romp, that gave Hillsdale a 21-17 lead with 7:56 to go in the third quarter.
But less than five minutes later, McKendree quarterback Reece Metcalf scored on a 12-yard keeper, giving the Bearcats the lead for good.
McKendree's speed was impressive, especially in the defensive backfield, where Charger receivers struggled to get open all night long. Stewart completed 12 of 20 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, while rushing nine times for a net of 28 yards.
Graham had another solid game with 79 yards on 16 carries and a score. Casey O'Brien broke off some nice runs and finished with 49 yards on seven carries. Shepler gained 37 on his seven runs.
Sandusky led the team's receiving corps with four catches for 34 yards.
Defensively, Hillsdale got a number of standout performances. Junior Wyatt Batdorff was again all over the field and led the team with 15 total tackles, four of them solo. Linebacker Dan Shanley had one of the most productive games of his career with 13 total tackles, while sophomore Merrick Canada had 8 tackles and an interception.
Sophomore linebacker Nate Jones played with intensity, also making eight stops, many of them big-stick award worthy. Jones also broke up three passes in the game.