Hillsdale.edu: Playoff hopefuls collide in Hillsdale as Chargers host Wayne State

FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Playoff hopefuls collide in Hillsdale as Chargers host Wayne State
Both teams 6-2 entering Saturday’s game
Hillsdale College Release
Charger Football Game Notes – Oct. 24, 2009

October 21, 2009 – One of the longest-running rivalries in GLIAC football writes its 51st chapter today, only there’s quite a bit more on the line than the normal “we beat a rival” motivation.

Saturday, the Chargers will host Wayne State University as the centerpiece activity during Parents’ Weekend. These two teams have met every season since 1970, but rarely, if ever, has as much been on the line as it is Saturday.

Both teams are in the current Super Region 3 rankings. Hillsdale is fifth, while the Warriors are eighth in the region. The top six teams in each region qualify for the NCAA Division II playoffs. With both teams in, or near the top six, the game is drenched with playoff implications.

In conference play, these are two of the five teams tied for second place with a 5-2 GLIAC mark. Hillsdale and Wayne State are joined by Northern Michigan, Saginaw Valley State and Findlay in the tangle of teams sitting one game behind conference leader Grand Valley State.

Today’s game offers a fascinating matchup of a steadily improving defense against perhaps the best running back in GLIAC history. The Chargers allowed a total of 73 points in their first two GLIAC games of this season.

Since then (except for the loss at Findlay), the Hillsdale defense has clamped down on its opponents, holding four teams to at least 14 points below their season scoring average. The team is 4-0 in those games, including a shutout of Indianapolis, a 27-24 win over Grand Valley State, and last week’s 28-17 win over Northern Michigan on the road. NMU had outscored its opponents at home by a combined score of 141-20 before losing to the Chargers. The Wildcats were averaging 47 points per home game, then the Hillsdale defense held the team to 17 in the win last week.

That NMU team had the best team rushing offense in the GLIAC. This week, Hillsdale faces the conference’s individual rushing leader in the form of Joique Bell.

Bell, a senior running back, holds tons of school and GLIAC records and currently leads the nation with a rushing yards per-game average of 191. He is a big, strong, bruising back who has improved his speed over last season.

Bell presents the ultimate challenge to any rushing defense, but across the way, Hillsdale has a pretty good back of its own, Vinnie Panizzi.

With 30 yards rushing Saturday, Panizzi will become the second player in school history to have three 1,000-yard rushing seasons to his credit. He is coming off a 131-yard rushing performance vs. the Wildcats, and helps give Hillsdale one of the truest two-dimensional offensive personalities of any team in the GLIAC. Bell and Panizzi rank 1-2 in the GLIAC in average rushing yards per game.

Complementing Panizzi’s 131 rushing yards was four touchdown passes from junior QB Troy Weatherhead, who also threw for 276 yards and completed 76 percent of his passes. Weatherhead has 2,054 passing yards this season and is the first quarterback in school history with two 2,000-yard passing games in his career.

Hillsdale’s pass offense is No. 1 in the GLIAC and will be going against Wayne State’s 11th (out of 12) ranked pass defense in this game. So regardless of which off ense is on the field, there will be a compelling matchup to watch on both sides of the ball.

This has been an evenly matched rivalry through recent years, though the home teams have had the edge this decade. Wayne State hasn’t won at Hillsdale since Oct. 14, 2000, and the Chargers have averaged 37.5 points per game in their last four wins vs. the Warriors. Hillsdale leads the alltime series between the teams 36-13-1.

Last year, Wayne State’s defense shut down the Chargers in a 14-7 victory in Detroit. The seven points scored by Hillsdale in that game were the fewest since a 7-3 loss to Ashland on Oct. 15, 2005.

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