Tradition • Character • Service

Tradition • Character • Service

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mercyhusrt Victory: Truly a Team Effort

Yeah, I called the Hillsdale win over Mercyhurst College yesterday "ugly". Spotting a team with a 4-4 record 14 points on the road was pretty ugly. Four turnovers were pretty ugly. But, once you look beyond that you can find some really great accomplishments from the Charger football team.

All year we have marveled at Division II's top trio of quarterback Mark Nicolet and receivers Aaron Waldie and Nick Gurica. They have posted ridiculous, video game-like numbers and have been the star attractions for the blue and white's quest for the D2 playoffs. You would think that if a team could lock down those three statistically the Chargers would be dead in the water. Like Kramer on Seinfeld always said, "You would think so....but you would be wrong."

Nicolet had his toughest day of the year yesterday. Having posted 300 yard or more efforts over the past six games, Mercyhurst gave him fits all day. Mark had thrown 2 picks all year, but the 3 over and 5 under zone by the Lakers clogged up the field and MC nabbed 3 interceptions. Gurica and Waldie were both held to 28 and 30 yards respectively. In the end, all that meant was that different Chargers would step up and win this one.

AJ Kegg nearly broke the 100 yard mark in receptions on Saturday as he caught 4 balls for 92 yards, including a 28 yarder and a clutch 4th down reception that eventually led to Hillsdale scores.

Vinnie Panizzi continued to legitimize the Charger running threat as Hillsdale posted 254 rushing yards. Behind a bullying performance by the Hillsdale offensive line, Panizzi carried 29 times for 112 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Another kid who has spent 4 years in the wings of the Hillsdale ground game is Brett Lark. The senior has played most of the season as the #3 back but he has been impressive in his chances to shine following a TJ Campbell injury. Larked carried 5 times for 69 yards yesterday including a beautiful 59 yard blast deep into Mercyhurst territory.

Gurica even got into the run game a bit. Hillsdale completely fooled the Lakers and put things almost on ice with a 12 yard end-around that Gurica took into the endzone virtually untouched. H-back Billy Kanitz, who scored an earlier touchdown, sealed an end and tackle Jared Veldheer drove the only other Laker half-way to Syracuse. Gurica's touchdown came virtually at the same point during this week's in-doubt affair that his big catch against Wayne State occurred in that still in-doubt affair.

Of course, Nicolet and Waldie didn't go completely unnoticed. The Charger quarterback kept an option and lowered his shoulder to bull through Mercyhurst for a key first down on that last touchdown drive. Waldie tied Dave Misfud's 22 year-old single season touchdown reception record of 12 with the Chargers' first points of the game. Nicolet dropped a perfect pass into all kinds of traffic.

Of course, this win would not have been at all possible if the Charger defense hadn't done its job. There used to be a sign hanging over the equipment room at Hillsdale that read: "We furnish everything but GUTS". Hillsdale sure packed enough of those for this road trip.

After missing most of last week with an ankle injury, Tom Korte returned to his role as the All-American candidate that he is. His 8 stops led Hillsdale, as did his 2 interceptions. The first came on an MC fourth down attempt. Korte sniffed out the screen perfectly, putting the ball back into Charger hands. That spark would lead to Hillsdale's 2nd touchdown, tying things at 14-14. Even bigger that momentum shift was the game saver on what would prove to be Mercyhurst's last offensive play. Facing 3rd and 10 from its own 40, Eric Weber got pressure on Laker QB Mitch Phillis. Korte broke on the ball and secured the win.

Another great defensive performance came from db Josh Hutchinson. He showed why he is the fastest player in the GLIAC as he ran down Laker Richard Stokes for a touchdown saving tackle. Hutchinson broke up 3 passes, made 6 solo tackles, and had a pick of his own. That one came with Hillsdale clinging to a 28-27 lead and would help motivate a 14 play 84 yard drive, culminating in a Panizzi touchdown.

True freshman Cody Henderson continues to shine as he contributed 5 tackles, a pass break-up, and a tackle for a loss.

I had to come back and add a comment about this kid. Mark Petro has gotten so automatic, that we might be starting to take him for granted. 6 of 6 PATs were no easy task.

Hillsdale showed a different wrinkle this past Saturday. When its marquee showmen struggled, the Chargers showed a true team effort with big performances from a number of guys all working toward 11-17.

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