By Chad Courrier / firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Petro figured he could kick a 50-yard field goal if he needed to Saturday. Instead, 34 yards was enough.
“It’s definitely the biggest kick I’ve ever made,” Petro said. “It’s the culmination of four years of hard work. I¹m just glad we made enough plays to win the game.”
Petro’s field goal in overtime allowed Hillsdale College to defeat Minnesota State 27-24 in the opening round of the NCAA Division II playoffs Saturday at Blakeslee Stadium.
It’s the first playoff game for the Chargers but the second straight season that Minnesota State, playing the first playoff home game, has reached the postseason and lost in the opening round.
“It was a classic football game; it¹s unfortunate that somebody had to lose,” Minnesota State coach Todd Hoffner said. “We made a couple mistakes down the stretch that cost us, but there’s 170 other plays in the game, it doesn’t boil to down to one.”
A fake punt near midfield highlighted the Mavericks’ first drive, which went 80 yards in eight plays. Jake Aberg rushed for 43 of the yards, including a 14-yarder off tackle in which he was untouched into the end zone. Sam Brockshus’ PAT made it 7-0 after less than five minutes.
Hillsdale answered with an equally effective drive, mixing six runs with three passes to produce an 80-yard drive. Bill Kanitz¹s 1-yard run and PAT kick by Petro tied the score at 7 after each team’s first possession.
The Mavericks’ next possession, a 10-play drive, spilled into the second quarter, and on the first play after the break, Fick passed 21 yards to Vincent Flury for the touchdown. It was only the third pass attempt of the game for Fick, who has played in just three games because of injuries.
“I felt good to start the game, but it kind of went downhill after that,” Fick said. “The whole game was a rollercoaster.”
Again, Hillsdale matched the score, going 73 yards in 12 plays, including a fourth-down conversion at the Minnesota State 26. Kanitz¹s second carry of the game produced another 1-yard touchdown, and the score was tied at 14 with 7:48 to play in the first half.
Each defense got a stop, but the Mavericks had the ball last. After getting the ball to Hillsdale 15 in the final seconds, Minnesota State settled for Brockshus’ 42-yard field goal on the final play for a 17-14 lead.
The Mavericks accumulated 206 yards of offense in the first half, 168 yards by rushing. Aberg rushed for 117 yards on 13 carries. Hillsdale totaled 164 yards in the half, with quarterback Troy Weatherhead completing 9 of 10 passes for 112 yards.
Hillsdale took its first lead on the opening drive of the third quarter, marching 81 yards on 12 plays, with Vinnie Panizzi scoring on a 6-yard run for a 21-17 lead. The margin grew to 24-17 when Petro kicked a 20-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
“We had a couple of opportunities (in the second half) to get things together,” Hillsdale coach Keith Otterbein said. “We had to settle for that field goal when it would have been big to get a touchdown. Anytime you have the ball and the lead, there¹s a chance for separation, but you have to give (Minnesota State) credit. As much as I talk about our kids fighting hard and playing to the end, that¹s what (Minnesota State) did, too.”
The Mavericks tied the game with 38 seconds to play as Fick connected with Omaar Balton, and Brockshus added the PAT to end the 75-yard drive that took six plays and less than two minutes.
“A couple of guys asked me (about going for the two-point conversion),” Minnesota State coach Todd Hoffner said. “In my mind, to fight that hard, I didn’t want it to come down to one play.”
Hillsdale drove down into field-goal range in the final seconds but Weatherhead fumbled on a scramble.
In the overtime, the Mavericks were penalized for an illegal block on the first play, then Fick hit Adam Thielen with a short pass. Hillsdale’s Lance Smith caused the fumble, and Joe Stempien recovered.
The Chargers ran three plays on their possession, and Petro booted the winning field goal to finish the program’s first playoff game.
“I wanted to get up as far as we could,” Otterbein said. “We wanted to be conservative at that point. When you have a kicker like Mark, you can be conservative.”
Minnesota State had 378 yards of offense, with 241 yards rushing and 137 yards passing, controlling the ball for 29:37. Hillsdale had 370 yards of offense, with 112 yards rushing and 258 yards passing with 30:23 possession time.
“It’s a tough situation, losing two in a row (to end the season),” Hoffner said. “I’m very proud of the players and how they played. Classy, and they played hard.”
Aberg finished with 168 yards on 22 carries, while Fick was 11 of 25 for 137 yards. Flury caught six passes for 98 yards.
Hamilton led the defense with 14 tackles, three more than linebacker Matt McQuiston. David Bakker, Joe Vear and Marcellus Wade each had 10 tackles, and Nick Galvan and Jordan Knudsen each had an interception.
Hillsdale plays at Grand Valley State on Saturday. It¹s a rematch of the regular-season game in which the Chargers won, when the Lakers were ranked No. 1 in the nation.