Late in the third quarter, the scoreboard and the Charger sidelines told the story of a game that saw the home team far behind in its home opener.
Then, the fourth quarter happened.
The Hillsdale College football team mounted an astonishing comeback, scoring 21 unanswered points to post a 31-27 win over Michigan Tech Saturday afternoon at Frank "Muddy" Waters Stadium. The Chargers are now 2-0 and are back home next weekend for their first-ever matchup with McKendree University.
Through three quarters, Hillsdale was struggling on offense, averaging around three yards per play while falling behind the Huskies 27-10. The score could have been more lopsided than it was, as Michigan Tech missed out on a touchdown opportunity with a fumble in the end zone, recovered by sophomore Nate Canterbury.
The Charger defense gradually stiffened in the second half, halting deep MTU drives and holding the Huskeis to field goals, keeping the deficit manageable. On offense, Hillsdale strung together a 15-play, 73-yard scoring drive capped on a quarterback sneak by junior Chance Stewart, making it a 27-17 game. The drive appeared to instill confidence in execution in the Charger offense.
Scotty Penola and Jordon Harlamert combined on a tackle-for-loss on second down on the next MTU drive, giving more energy to the Chargers. A third-down stop helped Hillsdale get the ball back, and the momentum continued, even through a bizarre sequence that gave the Chargers new life.
Stewart connected with junior Trey Brock on a pass close to the Michigan Tech goal line. Brock was taken down quickly, but the ball came loose, and MTU's Cory Williams scooped the ball up and maneuvered all the way down the field for what appeared to be a 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown, that would have put the Huskies on top 33-17.
However, there was a flag on the play and the officials met, determining that the pass to Brock was incomplete. A personal foul call on Hillsdale put the Chargers back from the MTU 8 to the 23-yard line, but the incomplete pass ruling also wiped 6 points off the board. Points were far more valuable than the yardage at that juncture.
Hillsdale capitalized on the additional opportunity, when Stewart squeezed his way into the end zone on a fourth-and-1 play from the 1 to make the score 27-24.
The Huskies ran for two yards and threw two incomplete passes on their next possession, in a way, helping to preserve the clock for the Chargers. A 20-yard punt return by senior Timmy Mills was key on the eventualk game-winning score, as his speed helped set the Chargers up in great field position.
Stewart again converted a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 on the next drive, then sophomore David Graham took the Chargers home. He ran for 21 yards on back-to-back carries, and eventually scored his second touchdown of the day, from 5 yards out, to inexplicably put Hillsdale in front.
The Hillsdale defense forced four incomplete passes on Michigan Tech's final drive to send the stadium, players, fans and coaches into a celebration they may have seen as unlikely just a few minutes earlier.
In the fourth quarter, Hillsdale had 166 total yards and 11 first downs, while Michigan Tech had 19 total yards and no first downs.
Charger safety Merrick Canada, who had 7 total tackles, made some big-time stops in crunch time to prevent Husky players from advancing with the ball.
Senior Spencer Nehls was in on the action all game on defense, and led Hillsdale with 10 total tackles. Alex Anschutz, making his home collegiate debut, finished with 7 total tackles, a number matched by sophomore linebacker Nate Jones.
Redshirt-freshman Zach VanValkenburg had a sack and forced a fumble, and recorded a quarterback hurry.
Stewart completed 211 of 37 passes for 215 yards, but ran for two scores. Graham had 13 carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns, while Joe Reverman made his return to the lineup with 35 yards on the ground.
Brock's streak of 100-yard receiving games came to an end, but he still caught 8 passes for 83 yards. Austin Sandusky caught 3 passes for 50 yards, and Mills caught 4 for 41 yards.