By Kevin Schrock
Donnell Stadium was rocking on Saturday night, September 6. The Oilers battled Hillsdale in their opener and it didn’t disappoint. In a game that saw only one punt in the first half, the fans got to see plenty of scoring. Findlay won the shootout 46-38, but it wasn’t without drama.
Things looked good early, the Oilers received the opening kickoff and marched the ball right down the field. Quarterback Verlon Reed would eventually connect with sophomore Luke Hampton from 32 yards out for a touchdown.
The Chargers from Hillsdale answered the score right away. Bennett Lewis had the big play of the drive for the Chargers. The freshman running back drove across midfield for a 27-yard run on second and 16 to set up the touchdown. It eventually came on a 15 yard run from Mark LaPrairie.
Back and forth, the score would go. The Oilers answered the Chargers with a Reed touchdown run, but the Chargers answered right back with a Lewis touchdown run at the end of the first quarter. The score stood 15-14 (Findlay) a quarter of the way through.
The Chargers finally got a third down stop when Reed couldn’t pick up nine yards on his scramble and was forced out of bounds. Tyler Bugeja did knock in the 27-yard field goal, but it gave the Chargers the open door they were looking for.
Only down 18-14 the Chargers looked to the end zone. The game plan became: hand the ball off to Lewis and let him take care of business. He took four carries on the drive for 39 yards and found the end zone.
Despite the lack of defense, the offense kept rolling. Reed found redshirt-freshman Darnell Fields streaking down the right sideline. They connected for a 55-yard hookup and a touchdown.
Hillsdale responded by knocking in a field goal to end the half but the Oilers still led 25-24 at the break.
The Chargers first series of the second half proved to be a big one. The Oiler defense stepped up and got a big three-and-out to get the ball back and preserve the lead.
Reed ran in for another Findlay touchdown to give them a 32-24 lead, but the Chargers would answer again.
Once again it was Lewis running it in for the Hillsdale touchdown. It was really becoming the Reed-Lewis battle.
Clinging to their 32-31 lead, Findlay knew that with the fourth quarter approaching, they had to build their lead. They did.
Reed would run it in from 19 yards out for his third rushing touchdown of the game. Findlay had a 39-31 lead, and after forcing a punt on the other end, things were looking good.
Things were looking even better three minutes later. With 8:41 left in the game Reed ran the ball into the end zone one more time. He gave the Oilers a 46-31 lead, and based on the way the defense had been playing, it looked like the game was over.
However, there was no quit in these Chargers. They took just a minute off the clock to score another touchdown. LaPrairie found Alex Fogt for the touchdown and cut the Oiler lead back to eight at 46-38.
Then, for the first time all game, it was the defenses that stepped up. After the Chargers got a big stop, the Oilers got an even bigger stop on defense. They preserved their lead and got the ball back with 2:58 left in the game.
The Oilers just couldn’t get back into the end zone. They came up empty on a fourth and 12 try and turned the ball back over to the Chargers on downs.
Fifty-four seconds. That was all that separated the Oilers from their first win, but it was the longest 54 seconds of their lives.
The Chargers marched it down field effortlessly and got all the way down to the Findlay 26 before they had to spike the ball. With the clock stuck on one second, and down only eight points, the Chargers had one chance.
Fortunately for the Oilers, the pass dropped incomplete and they ran home with the win.
“I knew Hillsdale would play a full 60-minutes, coach Rob Keys said. “I was hoping the game would be out of reach by then, but it just wasn’t quite.”
Fortunately for the Oilers, Reed had racked up just enough points early on to carry them through. He rushed for four touchdowns and threw for the only two other Findlay touchdowns.
“Verlon (Reed) did a good job of managing the game, showing great poise and leadership,” commented Keys. “We’re very fortunate to have a guy like that.”
After winning the game in dramatic fashion the Oilers will have to set their sights on McKendree next week. The game