Sept. 26, 2009

Courtesy of Hillsdale Athletics

Sept. 26, 2009 - Ask most football players and coaches what their favorite feeling is during a game, and the most likely answer you’ll get is when one team can run the ball down the other team’s throat from start to finish. That was one of many good feelings running through the players and coaches on the Hillsdale College sidelines Saturday afternoon.

In the signature win of this season so far, the Chargers used an offensive line and running game that was simply awesome in defeating No. 15 Ashland University 38-19 in Ashland Saturday. Hillsdale is now 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the GLIAC, while the Eagles fell to 3-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference.

Considering the quality of the opponent and the location of the game (on the road), there may be no sweeter win during head coach Keith Otterbein’s eight seasons with the Chargers than this one. Ashland came into the game ranked 12th in the nation, averaging 39 points per game during its three-game winning streak. But Hillsdale overpowered the Eagles on both sides of the line of scrimmage and never trailed in the game.

Senior RB Vinnie Panizzi was coming off a career-high rushing game last week vs. the University of Indianapolis. He improved greatly upon that effort against the Eagles, becoming the first Charger running back to rush for more than 200 yards in a game in five years. He carried the ball 28 times for a career-best 231 yards and three touchdowns. It was his third three-touchdown game of the season, and he took full advantage of the outstanding blocking provided by offensive linemen Jared Veldheer, Mackie Meece, Phil Doerfler, Reid Meador and Patrick Harbour.

Hillsdale took a 7-0 lead on an eight-play drive that featured four passes and four runs, with Panizzi hitting the end zone for the first time at the 7:27 mark of the first quarter.

After an Ashland field goal, Hillsdale scored early in the second quarter on a drive that would set the tone for the day. Panizzi ripped off runs of 28 and 14 yards on a drive capped by a one-yard scoring plunge by senior Bill Kanitz.

The Charger defense then took its turn making plays, punishing Ashland’s All-American QB Billy Cundiff. Drew Berube, Jimmie Plaskey and Marcellus Wade each sacked Cundiff on the next two drives to make it tough for the explosive Eagles offense to find a rhythm.

Cundiff threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to close the gap to 14-10. An Ashland field goal made it a one-point game, but that was the closest the Eagles would come to taking a lead in the game.
Panizzi found paydirt for the second time in the game with 23 seconds left in the first half to extend Hillsdale’s lead to 21-13. A key play on the drive came when Charger QB Troy Weatherhead tossed a 28-yard pass to junior WR Andre Holmes on a 3rd-and-21 play early in the drive. A David Bakker sack of Cundiff helped end the first half on a completely positive note for Hillsdale.

Not content with the eight-point lead entering the third quarter, Panizzi put his stamp on the game with a 46-yard run on the opening play of the second half. Two seven-yard runs later, he was in the end zone again, putting the Chargers up 28-13 less than 90 seconds into the second half.

Hillsdale’s defense made sure it kept the momentum on Ashland’s first drive of the third quarter, as sacks by Berube and Andrew Yarbrough forced a three-and-out.

Kanitz scored his second touchdown of the game on Hillsdale’s next drive, highlighted by a 25-yard pass from Weatherhead to junior WR Mike Blanchard.

Seven different players had tackles-for-loss on the Charger defense, and Berube recorded two sacks. Senior LB Mat Szula led Hillsdale with 13.5 total tackles, including 10 solo stops. Senior DE Eric Schweller had five solo tackles for Hillsdale. Wade had 1 1/2 sacks to round out another outstanding performance by the defense.

Weatherhead was 12-for-21 for 152 yards in the game. Holmes caught four passes for a team-high 71 yards.

The last time Hillsdale beat Ashland on the road was Sept. 20, 2003 in a 24-20 victory. The Chargers have scored at least 37 points in four of their five games this season. Hillsdale’s defense allowed 73 points in its first two conference games, but now has given up just 19 in its last two GLIAC games, both victories.