The cold, the dark and a tough defense weren't enough to stop the Hillsdale College football team from running its winning streak to six games Saturday night.
The Chargers improved to 7-1 for the first time in 19 years thanks to a 28-9 win over Walsh University in a game played at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Hillsdale maintains a half-game lead over Tiffin in the conference standings with a 6-0 G-MAC mark.
The first several series of this game were played in absurd weather – cold rain and hard winds made navigating anything in the playbook a challenge for both teams. But the Chargers had an edge in the form of senior quarterback Chance Stewart.
Big, athletic, and able to absorb a hit, Stewart relied on his legs when the elements simply wouldn't allow the team's passing game to find an early rhythm. His mastery of the option game, and consistent, responsible blocking by the team's offensive line allowed the Chargers to play within themselves at the game's outset.
Stewart ended up as the team's leading rusher, carrying the ball 15 times for 58 yards, many of those in the first half when establishing a passing game was a risk. However, the elements cleared up as the game went along, and Stewart then operated with his reliable right arm to get the Chargers in command.
Sophomore wide receiver Konnor Maloney had one of his best games, catching 8 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. But it was also his legs that led to the game's first points. He took an end around play into the end zone from eight yards out to give Hillsdale a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.
A Walsh touchdown, followed by a missed extra point, led to the 7-6 halftime score. In the third quarter, the Chargers took over the game on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Hillsdale held Walsh to no first downs and 10 total yards in the third quarter. The team's pursuit was aggressive, and players at all three levels stepped up to make plays to keep the Cavs from sustaining any offensive momentum in the quarter.
Meanwhile, Stewart went to his most prolific target to ignite the offense. Senior Trey Brock was held without a catch in the first half, but made all four of his catches in the third quarter, covering 94 yards, which included a 61-yard touchdown strike to put Hillsdale ahead 14-6 early in the third quarter. Stewart found Brock perfectly in stride on the long pass.
The play, while giving Hillsdale just an eight-point lead, was a key one, because it kept the Chargers' confidence sustained and it played with the feel of a team holding a much bigger lead at that point in the game.
Junior tailback David Graham, who also had a strong second half, scored a three-yard touchdown later in the third quarter to make it a 21-6 ballgame.
A Walsh field goal was followed by a 32-yard scoring pass from Stewart to Maloney which removed all doubt from this game.
Stewart completed 18 of 28 passes for 297 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. Graham rushed for 51 yards and caught 2 passes for 13 yards.
Jason McDonough intercepted a pass on Walsh's final drive to put an appropriate period on this terrific performance by the Charger defense. Zach VanValkenburg had a sack, and Matt Harding and Dan Shanley shared the lead on the team with six solo tackles apiece. Defensive lineman Nate Chambers also recorded a sack and had an impactful game on the interior of the defensive line.
This also marks Hillsdale's first six-game winning streak since the 2009 season, when the Chargers finished the regular season with five straight wins and one victory in the Division II playoffs, at Minnesota St.-Mankato.
PHOTO: University of Findlay Athletics