Hillsdale (2-2) vs. #9 Saginaw Valley State (3-0)
Saturday, September 24, 7:00 PM, Muddy Waters Stadium
The Hillsdale College football program has to be feeling much better about itself after two wins against Ferris State and Gannon. The Chargers sit at .500 but now face the toughest part of their schedule. First on tap will be the undefeated Saginaw Valley State Cardinals who are feeling pretty good about their 3-0 start as well as the performances of their run game and NCAA leading defense.
Saginaw opened the year by shutting down a much heralded Northwood offense and has allowed only 13 points in 3 games. Led by All-American candidate linebacker John DiGiorgio and sophomore tackle Josh Miller who had 3 of the Cardinals' 7 sacks last week against Findlay. The unit is playing with tremendous confidence.
"We go in with the attitude that we have the best defense in the league, and that’s what we just come out every week to prove," Miller told the Midland Daily News after last week's game. "We go out there knowing that we’re not going to let anybody get anywhere on us."
The Cardinal running game put up 255 yards rushing against Findlay and Logan Barnhart was responsible for 134 of those on 13 carries. Barnhart likes the direction that piece of the offense is going.
"It’s just going to keep getting better," Barnhart was quoted by Midland Daily News last Saturday. "We’ve got Hilsdale, Indianapolis, Mercyhurst, then we’ve got the big game (against No. 2 Grand Valley on Oct. 15). I think by then we’ll be running on all cylinders."
The Chargers would like to disrupt that progress and will gladly welcome any "looking ahead" the Cardinals may be doing at this point in the season.
The Cardinals also return the services of very productive wide-receiver Mark (Sorry about calling him Matt earlier) LaFreniere who is in his sixth, yes sixth season with the team. After being red-shirted as a freshman and then medically red-shirted last year, the Cardinal administration has had to do all kinds of talking with the NCAA to secure LaFreniere's eligibility. Division II allows 4 years or competition within 10 semester. This is the Cardinal's 11th semester. Apparently all waivers have been filed and cleared. At one point, it was in doubt whether SVSU's opening win against Northwood would stand since Saginaw was late filing the paperwork. LaFreniere was injured early in the opener and hasn't played since. No one is sure whether that was in case he was ruled ineligible or if he is still injured.
Quarterback Chris Dougherty is in his first year as a starter has thrown for an average of 311.7 yards per game, good enough for the #4 ranking in D2.
Hillsdale has plenty of reason to believe it can give Saginaw a ballgame. Last year, Hillsdale's Phil Martin tied a GLIAC record with a 97 yard touchdown run. Martin had 155 yards on 8 carries. Two years ago, the Chargers nearly pulled the upset when Saginaw brought the nation's #1 ranking into Muddy Waters Stadium and escaped with a 31-22 win.
The team continues to improve each week and is a far cry from what took the field against Indianapolis. The group that has probably come the furthest is the offensive line. As the line has improved, so has the explosiveness of the Charger offense.
The defense has been solid all year but has been exceptional recently against the run. Over the past two weeks, the Chargers have allowed only an average of 78 rushing yards per game. Opponents have only scored 2 touchdowns on the ground this year.
Getting to Dougherty will be key and Hillsdale appears to be more equipped to do so than it has since the 90's. The Chargers have recorded 13 sacks in four games. That is 2 more than they had all last year. The defensive line is doing a great job, but the secondary isn't getting nearly the run it deserves for helping the pass rush. Chad Gurica continues to be one of the GLIAC's top corners and when he can lock down receivers, it gives the guys up front more time to make big plays.
Game time is 7:00 PM and tailgating will begin about 4:30. Once again the Gridiron Club and Parents Booster Group will be celebrating another great Saturday. Feel free to join both groups for some pre-game fun.