D2football.com: David Bykowski’s Independents Column

Tiffin Dragons (7-1) at Hillsdale Chargers (6-2), 2:30 ET

For Tiffin, this game technically has little significance this season. The Chargers are but a blip on a schedule where games against Missouri-Rolla and Central State remain, two obstacles separating the Dragons from a GLFC title. For Hillsdale, the game has more significance: ranked #8 in the latest regional rankings, the Chargers need wins in this game and subsequent tests against Findlay and Saginaw Valley State to have any hope of sneaking into the playoffs. But in reality, the greatest meaning to this game is the fact that with Tiffin joining the GLIAC next season, this is the kind of game that can start a long conference rivalry.

As expected at the beginning of the season, Tiffin has plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball. QB Matt Root has emerged as the leader under center with the versatile Donnie Johnson playing just about any offensive skill position for the Dragons. Root’s arm has been good for over 1,800 yards so far this season with many of those thanks to receptions by WR Dyshaun Edwards and LaMar Tipton. On the ground, it seems like it’s a different leader every week: throw the names of Pierece Wade, Alvin McKnight, and even Donnie Johnson into a hat, pull one out, and there’s your leading rusher. Jon Hemmelgarn has started to see more action recently and has emerged as yet another threat in the Dragons’ versatile offense. Defensively, it’s hard not to start with a pair of linebackers: leading tackler Parris Burt and sophomore Drew Douthit, who already has 12 tackles for loss and six sacks. The defensive line has put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks thanks to DL Luke Seal with a team-high 13 tackles for loss and converted offensive lineman Wyatt Thames, who has a team-high eight sacks on the year.

Hillsdale, however, has been quite a surprise this season. Picked ninth in the GLIAC in the preseason coaches poll, the Chargers’ only blemishes on the year have been close losses to Indianapolis and Ferris State, and they have a big win over Ashland (#5 in the regional rankings) and a shutout win over Michigan Tech. QB Mark Nicolet has been nothing short of amazing this season, completing 68.5% of his passes for over 2,500 yards on the year and 24 touchdowns to just five interceptions with WR Nick Gurica (58 catches, 850 yards, 8 TD) and Aaron Waldie (49 catches, 898 yards, 12 TD) being the favorite targets. The defense hasn’t been great, but in most cases, it has gotten the job done, especially at home. When it does click, it’s usually against the pass, as Hillsdale has 15 interceptions on the season as a team, and DB Josh Hutchison has deflected and broken up a number of passes this season, so throwing anywhere near him would not be recommended.

Tiffin’s pass defense has been somewhat suspect throughout this season, particularly in a good-but-not-great defensive secondary, and you can be sure that Hillsdale will look to come out with a game plan similar to the one that Ohio Dominican had in their win against the Dragons. The Chargers certainly have the quarterback and receivers to beat Tiffin’s secondary, and as long as Hillsdale defense can get enough stops, the Chargers should be able to defend their home turf. But this game definitely has a good chance of being a shootout.

Prediction: Hillsdale 41, Tiffin 35

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