This could have been a classic trap game for the Hillsdale College football team, who is staring down the possibility of winning a conference championship at home next week.
But instead of looking ahead, this mature and talented Charger football team took care of business, recording its first shutout of the 2018 season, 34-0 over Kentucky Wesleyan College on a gray, drizzly late October day at Frank "Muddy" Waters Stadium.
The win makes Hillsdale - ranked 25th in NCAA Division II - 8-1 overall and 7-0 in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.
It also sets up a showdown for the regular season conference title next weekend when the Chargers host Tiffin University (6-0 G-MAC) on Senior Day.
But before the Senior Day festivities and the high stakes of a conference title were on the line, the Chargers knew none of that would matter without a win over Kentucky Wesleyan. And once again, both sides of the ball played big parts in picking up the eighth win of the season.
The defense shut out three teams in 2017, but threw up its first zero of this season thanks to more timely plays throughout the game. Hillsdale stopped Kentucky Wesleyan on a fourth-down conversion attempt in the first half, and intercepted two more passes to help preserve the shutout.
After an opening-drive interception, the defense was forced into a challenging field position on the Panthers' first drive. But that's when Alex Anschutz stepped up, picking off a pass on the Panthers' third play from scrimmage. That sudden momentum reversal helped set up the team's first score of the day.
Senior quarterback Chance Stewart connected on an 11-yard touchdown pass to senior Trey Brock, putting the Chargers on top 7-0. It wouldn't be the last time Brock would find paydirt, and make history on this day.
On the final defensive snap of the first half, junior linebacker Nate Jones intercepted a pass in the end zone, stopping a deep Panther drive that could have cut into Hillsdale's lead. Jones's play was yet another example of the defense toughening up in its own red zone, a key characteristic of its success all year.
On Hillsdale's second possession of the third quarter, Stewart fired a 67-yard touchdown bomb to Brock to make it a 28-0 Hillsdale lead.
That catch was Brock's 220th of his career, breaking a record that had been held by Andre Holmes and set back in 2010. Brock now holds the "triple crown" of Hillsdale College career receiving records, already having set the mark for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns earlier this season.
Despite the aerial heroics provided by Stewart and Brock, the Chargers showed commitment and execution in the running game, rushing 43 times as a team for 171 yards and two David Graham touchdowns. Graham picked up his two scores in the first half as he finished with 73 yards on 17 carries in a strong effort. Graham did a terrific job at reading the blocks generated by his offensive line, who was strong in this game from start to finish.
Josef Hissom ran the ball a career-high 11 times for 37 yards, and Christian Shepler gained 31 yards in just four attempts.
Stewart went 16-for-25 for 250 yards and two scores. Brock caught 5 passes for 116 yards and two scores, while senior Austin Sandusky hauled in 4 passes for 52 yards.
Defensively, senior Jay Rose was excellent in all phases, leading the team with 9 solo tackles and 12 total. Junior Nate Jones had 8 total tackles while seven different players were in on tackles-for-loss. Zach VanValkenburg, Schuyler Snell and Kyle Parran all recorded sacks for the defense, which held the Panthers to just 12 first downs and 89 yards passing for the game.
PHOTO: MaryKate Drews