November 12, 2009
Behind the scenes
Hillsdale goes to first dance
BY GEORGE SIPPLE
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
The Hillsdale College football team (9-2) will participate in the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time in school history when it visits Minnesota State-Mankato (10-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Hillsdale, a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Association team, had its best regular season in 17 years and will make the postseason for the first time since it was an NAIA program in 1988. The Chargers are led by senior back Vinnie Panizzi, who rushed for 1,306 yards and 21 touchdowns. Free Press sports writer George Sipple talked to Panizzi and eight-year coach Keith Otterbein.
"We're not just satisfied with making the playoffs," Panizzi said. "Now we're 0-0 and it's a single-game elimination."
On making the Division II playoffs for the first time:
Otterbein: "Everyone wants to win. The problem is everyone else is trying to win. This is a very satisfying year for us. We had fun as a football team, great chemistry and faced a buzz saw the last part of the season and kept going."
Panizzi: "Walking to my classes, several professors said congratulations, and they were asking when we were leaving. There's a big buzz on campus. They're starting a petition at the student union to ask for Friday off so everyone can travel to the game."
On the challenge Minnesota State-Mankato presents:
Otterbein: "This is going to be a very physical team, as physical a team as we've got in our conference on both sides of the ball. They're not going to try to fool you with the schemes as much as they just play real hard and try to control the line of scrimmage on defense. ... They run play-action pass, very similar to our style, so we have to be assignment sound and eliminate the big play. I think it's going to be an old-fashioned, time-of-possession, field-position game."
On Panizzi leading the offense:
Otterbein: "He's not a home run guy, but he's going to have a bunch that are anywhere from 6 to 8 yards or 14 to 15 yards. He's able to break tackles. He's been able to create some problems for people."
On Otterbein's tradition of lighting a victory cigar:
Panizzi: "At the team banquet, the team gave him a nice engraved butane lighter. Right before we sing our fight song, he'll light up."
Otterbein: "I don't know what the NCAA thinks about that in the playoffs, but if we win I'm going to go hide in the corner somewhere ... at least we'll be outside."