They waited their entire lives for a day like this.
The wait was worth it.
The Hillsdale College football team won the 2018 Great Midwest Athletic Conference championship with an unforgettable 48-26 win over Tiffin University Saturday afternoon at Frank "Muddy" Waters Stadium.
The win clinches the outright conference title for the Chargers, who are 9-1 overall and finish the season 8-0 in the G-MAC. Hillsdale and Tiffin came into the game unbeaten in conference play, but with Hillsdale finished with its G-MAC schedule, the championship trophy will take up residence in the George Roche Sports Complex for the next 12 months.
This was the first matchup of top-25 teams the Chargers had been involved in since 2012. Tiffin came into the game ranked 10 spots higher in last week's AFCA Division II Top 25 poll, #15 compared to Hillsdale's ranking of 25. But to any of the passionate Charger fans watching this game, those rankings proved to be just a number.
Not only did this game decide the conference championship, it was Senior Day for the Hillsdale College program. The team's senior class was celebrated in a pre-game ceremony. But the real show was put on by the seniors all throughout the game.
Quarterback Chance Stewart and wide receiver Trey Brock have been a thrilling combo for fans to watch ever since their debut in 2015. They have never had a finer performance, at a more opportune time on their home turf than they did Saturday.
Stewart directed the offense with precision and aggression, completing 16-of-25 passes for 268 yards and 4 touchdown passes. He also found time to score himself, a one-yard touchdown plunge that applied the appropriate bow on this beautiful package of a football game late in the fourth quarter.
Brock has been Stewart's favorite target throughout their four years together, and Brock had what can only be described as an All-American performance in his home regular season finale.
Brock caught 10 passes for 156 yards and 4 touchdowns, a single-game career high and one shy of the school record set by Aaron Waldie in 2007. His touchdown catches came on throws of 25, 13, 4 and 7 yards from Stewart. Despite getting constant attention from the Tiffin defense, he consistently got open, made yards after catch and threw a stiff arm that energized the entire stadium.
Already Hillsdale's all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, Brock's brilliance in this game couldn't be overstated. It was the 20th 100-yard receiving game in his career, and came in the biggest game he's ever played wearing the Charger blue.
The first half of this game featured strong momentum swings by both teams. The Dragons were firing on all cylinders, opening the game with a 10-play, 96-yard drive to take a 6-0 lead. But Hillsdale answered right back, when Stewart threw a laser to Brock from 25 yards out to help the Chargers take a 7-6 lead.
After a Tiffin field goal, Hillsdale played with increased energy and emotion, scoring 10 straight points on a 14-yard touchdown run by David Graham and a 21-yard field goal by Joe Philipp to help Hillsdale take a 17-9 lead.
But the Dragons seized momentum with 10 unanswered points in the first half's last 99 seconds to go ahead 19-17 at halftime.
Whatever head coach Keith Otterbein said to the team at halftime clearly worked, because the Chargers played close to a flawless second half on both sides of the ball. Hillsdale outscored Tiffin 31-7 in the second half and forced three turnovers, two of them by two of the team's top seniors.
Senior linebacker Jay Rose, who battled injuries earlier in his career, sealed the game with an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. The pick capped a terrific 9-tackle performance for Rose.
Cornerback Carter Wilson, also a senior, played the best game of his career, with 8 total tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery that was huge in keeping momentum firmly on the Chargers' side in the second half. He had to exit the first half with an injury, but showed heart and determination by coming back to be a big factor in the second half for Hillsdale.
Sophomore Zach VanValkenburg had a destructive game from his defensive end position, recording 10 total tackles and a sack. His upfield pursuit stood out and he caught one runner after another from behind throughout the game.
Junior Merrick Canada also had 8 tackles, while defensive end Kyle Parran was outstanding, with 7 total tackles, 4 of them for lost yardage by the Dragons. He recorded 3 sacks, exactly the kind of plays Hillsdale used to keep up its emotion throughout an emotional day.
The win will undoubtedly help Hillsdale's playoff chances, having beaten an undefeated team who was ahead of it in last week's regional rankings. The next set of Super Region 1 rankings will be released Monday afternoon.
PHOTO: Camryn Olson