STERLING — Ottawa University junior receiver Jon Hilliger came to the Braves known as a chains mover. He had 34 catches in two seasons with Los Angeles Valley College.
Hilliger is turning into more than a possession receiver for Ottawa. The junior is becoming the go-to pass catcher for quarterback Shane Gimzo.
The sure-handed receiver had one of the most productive games in Braves history Saturday in Ottawa’s 38-21 win over Sterling in Sterling.
He caught a school-record 18 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns. The 18 receptions ranks second in the history of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference for a single game. He trails Bethany’s Curtis Peter’s 19-reception game against Ottawa in 2002.
The yardage is fourth in school history for a game. Hilliger was selected the KCAC offensive player of the week.
Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger said the receivers and quarterback Shane Gimzo stayed within the framework of the offense and hit the holes in the Sterling defense.
“They rolled so heavy to the three receiver side,” Kessinger said. “We knew we could get one-on-one matchups. Their corners are sophomores and freshmen. We did some out and ups ... slants and goes ... hitches and goes. We ran some posts when we got them to over rotate. That is when we starting playing pitch and catch pretty good.”
Especially Gimzo to Hilliger on hitch routes along the sideline. They also hooked up on a double move for a 30-yard touchdown.
“Nine or 10 of them were little hitch routes,” Kessinger said. “We got [Hilliger] on some deep routes. Travis [Adamson] was kind of a decoy for us. It is nice they compliment each other.”
Gimzo’s arm is becoming a force. He finished 31 of 42 for 378 yards and five touchdowns, which ties him for third for a single game in school history. The 73.8 completion percentage ranks fourth all-time.
“We got some pretty good matchups,” Kessinger said. “[Gimzo] ends up being effective. Especially when he can extend plays. I would like to see him do that a little more, let the guys create around him. He did a good job of taking what was given him.”
It took a half for Ottawa to get rolling. The Warriors, who have been tough on the Braves in recent history, led 14-10 at halftime.
“We finally got it together in the second half,” Ottawa defensive coordinator Josh Homolka said. “We put a few touchdowns in. We made some adjustments at halftime to stop [Hudsepth]. He is a good player. We never play well out here. They played spirited. They are a big emotional team.”
Kessinger said Ottawa took the wind out of Sterling by stopping the Warriors on their first series of the second half.
“We could tell there was little bit of deflation on their sideline,” Kessinger said. “Our defense was doing a good job of causing penetration [in the first half]. Knocking their first-string quarterback out made a big difference.”
Hudspeth, who is a running quarterback, took over early in the second quarter.
“He is not a big thrower,” Homolka said. “We made a few checks off the edge.”
Linebacker Mason Semmel said Hudspeth was tough to stop, but the defense swarmed to him.
The Ottawa defense forced four fumbles and had an interception. Logan Schultz snared his sixth interception and returned to the Sterling 15 early in the third quarter. Ottawa took the lead for good on Kodie Woods’ touchdown reception.
“That was big,” Homolka said of the interception. “We needed that. I told the secondary before the game ‘you are not going to get a lot of chances in secondary, but the ones you do you have to make the most of.’”
Sterling fumbled the kickoff, which led to Hilliger’s 30-yard touchdown catch and Ottawa led 24-14. Ottawa later extended the lead to 31-14, scoring after another fumble.
Dominic Sigala, who hit all four extra points, was named the KCAC special teams player of the week. He had three touchbacks and four returns for only 77 yards on his seven kickoffs. He also recovered a fumble.
Kessinger liked how the Braves took to the halftime adjustments.
“We had 30 minutes to keep our championship drives alive,” he said. “They did a good job of responding.”
Ottawa (5-2, 5-1), which moved into the NAIA poll at No. 24, will put its five-game winning streak on the line 1:30 p.m. Saturday in its homecoming game against Bethany at Peoples Bank Field.
S — Noller 25 interception return (Dunn kick).
O — Hilliger 10 pass from Gimzo (Stamp kick).
S — Schmidt 20 pass from Cardona (Dunn kick).
O — Stamp 25 FG.
O — Wood 15 pass from Gimzo (Sigala kick).
O — Hilliger 30 pass from Gimzo (Sigala kick).
O — Wilkerson 11 pass from Gimzo (Sigala kick).
S — Hudspeth 3 run (Dunn kick).
O — Hilliger 7 pass from Gimzo (Sigala kick).
Rushing — Ottawa (30-58): Hayes 5-15; Dydell 5-13; Gimzo 20-30; Sterling (51-208): Hudspeth 25-117; Cardona 6-41;
Reid 10-31; Serber 2-18.
Passing — Ottawa: Gimzo 31-42-1 378; Johnson 0-1-0 0; Sterling: Hudspeth 5-12-1 71; Cardona 4-5-0 43.
Receiving — Ottawa: Hilliger 18-213; Wood 4-62; Wilkerson 3-45; Croson 1-36; Adamson 2-18; Hayes 3-4; Sterling: Schmidt 2-45; Coleman 3-37; Hudspeth 2-18; Serber 1-9; Lawson 1-5.
Tackles — Ottawa: Magdalena 5, Semmel 5, Hutchens 5, Gross 5, Coomes 5, Schultz 5, Lanning 5; Sterling: Rice 9, Henderson 8, Hook 7, Noller 5; Lawton 5.