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Defense Comes Up Big for Chargers in Season-Opening Win

Senior Timmy Mills caught 3 passes in Hillsdale's win at Mercyhurst. Photo by MaryKate Drews
Senior Timmy Mills caught 3 passes in Hillsdale's win at Mercyhurst. Photo by MaryKate Drews

Box Score

Winning on the road is never easy in the sport of college football, but the Hillsdale College Chargers accomplished just that in its 2017 season opener Saturday afternoon.

Jason McDonough intercepted a pass at the goal line with less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter to preserve a 19-11 Hillsdale win over host Mercyhurst University. Hillsdale, 1-0 on the season, will host former conference foe Michigan Tech University at 1:00 next weekend.

McDonough's pick was one of several big plays made by the defense on a day when both defenses came to play. The Lakers forced a Hillsdale 3-and-out and took over with 4:49 to go. Mercyhurst used 10 plays to drive 59 yards, threatening to tie the game late.

Senior defensive lineman Matthew Schrzan made the first big play of the late series with a sack on third-and-goal, pushing the Lakers back from the Hillsdale 7 to the 12. That set up a fourth-down play where the Lakers needed to score a touchdown to stay in the game. McDonough then made his big pick, intercepting a pass at the 8-yard-line, sewing up the Chargers' first win in the state of Pennsylvania in a decade.

Hillsdale was terrific on third-down defense, stopping the Lakers 10 out of 12 attempts on third down. Hillsdale recorded three sacks, while the Charger offensive line didn't allow any.

Neither team could score in the fourth quarter, but both defenses may have been aided by a strong wind that played havoc with the offensive game plans of both teams.

The Lakers took the lead with a field goal on their opening drive, but the Chargers responded with a field goal of their own, off the foot of redshirt-freshman Joe Philipp, scoring his first collegiate points.

Hillsdale took the lead for good on its second drive of the second quarter, when junior quarterback Chance Stewart pitched a 5-yard touchdown pass to junior Trey Brock, putting Hillsdale up 9-3. Another Philipp field goal put Hillsdale up 12-3 at halftime.

The Chargers found paydirt on their second drive of the third quarter, when sophomore David Graham, making his first collegiate start at running back, plowed his way into the end zone from two yards out to extend the lead to 19-3. Graham's score capped a six-play, 68-yard drive that was highlighted by a 52-yard pass from Stewart to Brock.

Mercyhurst scored a touchdown on its next possession, and converted a two-point conversion to make it a one-score game. But the Charger defense stepped up from there, keeping this one in the win column.

Three players had six or more tackles for Hillsdale, led by Spencer Nehl's eight. Wyatt Batdorff and Scotty Penola each had six.

Nehls added a big play on special teams, blocking a 24-yard field goal

The Chargers front four had a big game, led by Schrzan's two sacks. Senior captain Matt Hall had a sack and two tackles for loss as well.

Offensively, Graham ran for a career-high 84 yards and a score, while Casey O'Brien also set a career-high with 45 yards on the ground. Christian Shepler added 40 yards rushing, also a career best.

Stewart was 17-for-33 passing for 198 yards and a score.

Brock hauled in nine passes for 124 yards and a touchdown, the ninth consecutive game he has eclipsed 100 receiving yards, extending his own school record. Graham had two catches for 36 yards out of the backfield.

True freshman punter Jack Shannon averaged 38.6 yards on his five punts in his first collegiate game.