An inch here, a nudge there, and the emotions swing in such different directions, it's hard to comprehend. Such is the nature of sports, and Saturday afternoon, the Hillsdale College football team experienced the sad end of it.
The Chargers saw an unforgettable 2018 season come to an end in a 19-14 loss to Notre Dame College in the NCAA Division II Super Region 1 semifinal, held in South Euclid, Ohio on the NDC campus.
Hillsdale's season comes to an end with a 10-3 record, matching the 2009 team for most wins in school history since the school became a Division II institution in 1990.
One last pass from senior quarterback Chance Stewart to senior wide receiver Trey Brock, with seven seconds left, got deflected and knocked out of the back of the end zone, ending the game and the season for Hillsdale, who fought hard and played with pride on a day where a number of factors went against it.
The incomplete pass ended a 12-play, 61-yard drive over the game's final 2:15 that saw Hillsdale march down to the Notre Dame 14-yard-line in an attempt to win the game. Two penalties were called against the Chargers on the drive, but the talent and determination of Stewart and the offense pressed on, converting a 4th-and-2, a 3rd-and-16 and a 3rd-and-17 on the drive. The last of those plays was made by senior wide receiver Austin Sandusky, who smartly maneuvered his way through the defense to get out of bounds on a 20-yard gain, setting Hillsdale up for the potential game-winning score.
But credit the Notre Dame defense, who was up to the task and managed to get just enough traffic in front of Stewart and Brock to keep the Chargers from advancing to the regional final for the first time in school history. Two Charger fumbles at the Notre Dame one-yard-line, coming in the first and fourth quarter, were also significant factors in the Falcons' first-ever postseason win.
This game played out in very similar fashion to last week's first round playoff game. Hillsdale's offense had just two first downs in the first half compared to 13 for the super-quick Falcons. Notre Dame held a 10-0 lead at halftime, which could have been far worse, were it not for a superior effort from the Charger defense, who answered one challenge after another from the Notre Dame offense.
The Falcons were led by freshman tailback Jale McLaughlin, who was unstoppable in the first quarter, running the ball 10 times for 139 yards. His speed hitting the hole was a tough matchup for the Hillsdale defense.
But just as it has all season, the Charger defense adjusted, and held McLaughlin to a total of 15 rushing yards across the second and third quarters. All three levels of the defense did an outstanding job of getting penetration into the backfield and wrapping up the speedy back before he could find any room. McLaughlin finished the game with 191 rushing yards on 31 carries, but lost 16 yards on those carries, thanks in part to 13 tackles-for-loss by the Charger defense.
Senior Jay Rose played his final game magnificently, leading the team with 14 total tackles and 3 ½ tackles for loss. Freshman defensive end Kyle Parran also had 3 ½ tackles for loss. They led a unit that saw eight different players record a tackle for loss.
Stewart ran for a one-yard touchdown and threw a 40-yard scoring pass to Brock in his final performance in a Hillsdale uniform. He was 17-for-36 for 322 yards, but was sacked six times. He was consistently pressured by the Falcon defense, who forced pressure up the middle often, keeping the offense out of a good rhythm for much of the game.
Brock turned in another incredible performance in his college finale, with 8 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown. Tight ends John Brennan and Martin Petersen combined for 4 receptions for 69 yards, while tailback David Graham had a 40-yard reception.
Early in the third quarter, Stewart set Hillsdale's single-season passing yards record, finishing with 3,588 yards through the air for the season. His career total of 10,064 passing yards is a new standard for the program.
Brock owns every wide receiver record there is at Hillsdale College. His 1,422 receiving yards this season are a school record. Brock's career stats read like this – all records – 256 receptions for 4,401 yards and 40 touchdowns. The legacy of winning, humility and consistently great play are ones this senior class can be proud of, and one that will be talked about at Hillsdale College for years and years to come.
PHOTO: Victoria Addis