A dominant second half on both sides of the ball turned into some unforgettable history for the Hillsdale College football team.
The Chargers scored 37 of the game's last 43 total points in defeating Kutztown University 40-26 in an NCAA Division II Super Region 1 playoff game in Pennsylvania.
The win, Hillsdale's second Division II playoff victory in its history, advances the team to next week's regional semifinal at Notre Dame College. That game will kick off at either noon or 1:00 in Euclid, Ohio.
Hillsdale, ranked 23rd in Division II, trailed 14-0 and 20-3 in the second quarter, with the Golden Bears on an absolute roll on offense and defense. Kutztown played sharp, running clean routes and getting accurate passing from the offense in controlling the game throughout the first half. The statistics reflected that, with the Chargers finding themselves outgained 322-99 in total yards.
But momentum is a weird thing in sports. Sometimes it can creep up quietly and without fanfare. Then it explodes in a fashion that's unstoppable.
In the case of this game, momentum may have started with the final play of the first half. Sophomore placekicker Joe Philipp kicked a 51-yard field goal, matching his career-long, to cut the Hillsdale deficit to 20-6.
Then all of a sudden, the third quarter happened.
It started with a strong-looking three-and-out by the defense, its first of the day. After racking up 322 first-half yards, the Chargers held the Golden Bears to just four yards on their first drive of the third quarter.
Junior running back David Graham, who had his best day of the season in this win, scored on an impressive second effort from 5 yards out to make it a one-score game on Hillsdale's opening drive of the second half.
The offense found the end zone for the second time when senior quarterback Chance Stewart found Austin Sandusky on a 10-yard touchdown pass to tie the game up a 20 apiece. By this point, Hillsdale's offense was in total rhythm. Confidence and execution soared, hand-in-hand..
A third Kutztown three-and-out led to a 28-yard touchdown run by Graham, who took the pitch off a quick snap to Stewart and burst into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. When Hillsdale's offense is at its best, it plays at a quick pace and keeps the defense off-balance. This play exemplified that characteristic.
Coaches talk all the time about the importance of special teams, and special teams played a big role in this game, but not in an obvious way. Hillsdale's average starting field position on its three third-quarter scoring drives was its own 42-yard line. A shorter field meant less required labor for Hillsdale's offense to score more points.
The Golden Bears scored early in the fourth quarter, but a missed extra point – its second of the game – seemed to have a deflating effect on the team. The Chargers jumped all over that, and went to its best players to finalize this one.
After being held to one catch in the first half, senior wide receiver Trey Brock turned in an All-American second half. On Hillsdale's first fourth-quarter touchdown drive alone, he caught 4 passes for 72 yards, culminating in a gorgeous corner-of-the-end zone grab to make it a 33-26 Charger lead. Brock used his strength and balance to land in the last possible spot in the right corner of the end zone, keeping Hillsdale on top.
The appropriate topping on this delicious cake was delivered in the form of a 60-yard scoring strike from Stewart to Brock. Brock shook loose of his defender, caught the pass along the sidelines, then outran the defense through the middle of the field to cap the scoring.
Brock finished the game with 8 catches for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns. Stewart, who became Hillsdale's all-time leader in career passing yards in this game, completed 19-of-30 passes for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Stewart's second half numbers were off the charts. After struggling in the first half, where he completed just 3-fo-13 passes, Stewart went 16-for-17 on his throws in the second half, moving around effectively while getting some tough work from the offensive line.
Graham carried the ball 20 times for 119 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
Senior linebacker Jay Rose had an outstanding game, leading the team with 13 total tackles. He also got in on the offense, carrying the ball for 14 yards on a perfectly executed fake punt attempt in the first half.
Linebacker Dan Shanley and safety Wyatt Batdorff each had 11 tackles while Drake Temple added to a great defensive effort with 10 stops. Nate Jones and Kyle Parran each had sacks, and Temple broke up four passes in the victory.
PHOTO: Kamryn Matthews