by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Cuyahoga Falls -- This was old-school football.
In a time of artificial turf and high powered offenses Sept. 30 Suburban League meeting between the Hudson Explorers and Cuyahoga Falls Black Tigers was a bit of a "throwback."
On the natural grass and muddy field at Falls' Clifford Stadium, offensive stats were limited, but the Explorers capitalized on three first-quarter turnovers by the host Tigers to jump out to a 21-0 lead and coast to a 37-6 National Conference victory.
The win kept Hudson (5-1, 3-0) in a three-way tie atop the standings along with Stow-Munroe Falls and Brecksville (both 6-0, 3-0).
The Explorers host the defending champion Bulldogs this Oct. 7 at Hudson Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Falls dropped to 1-5, overall and 0-3 in the conference.
With the rain along with the grass field, weather became a factor.
The Black Tigers have been more of an old fashioned three yards and a cloud of dust team, so the mud could have benefited their cause to end what is now a 15-game losing streak to the Explorers.
The rain stopped just more than an hour before the game, but still the wet conditions and strong defensive performances limited the offensive production.
A week after racking up 551 yards in total offense (in a 31-0 rout of North Royalton) Hudson was held to a season-low 193 yards of offense. Meanwhile, Falls finished with just 108 yards.
"The weather and muddy field conditions almost felt a little nostalgic," Explorers' first-year head coach Jeff Gough said.
"It was a little unnerving because they [the Black Tigers] practice on grass all the time, so they don't think twice about it.
"This was our first grass game of the year and that's all anybody could talk about pregame. We tried to reel them back in. The coaching staff did a great job of getting them focused. I don't think it was a huge factor. It affected both teams the same way."
Well, maybe not the same.
Averaging nearly three turnovers per game through the five previous contests, Hudson had its first turnover-free game of the season despite the wet conditions.
Meanwhile, the Black Tigers had three first-quarter turnovers and four for the night. Falls miscues led to 24 Explorer points. Falls' three miscues in the opening minutes led to three quick touchdowns for Hudson.
"I thought it [the weather] might help us out a little bit, but Hudson is a great team and great program," Black Tigers head coach Sean Flaherty said. "A muddy field isn't going to take too much away from them."
The first-quarter mistakes spotted the Explorers a 21-0 lead despite just 30 yards in total offense.
Defensive back Kolby Miller got things started for Hudson on the fifth play of the game.
On third and long, the senior anticipated a pass to the left flats. In full stride Miller stepped in front of the aerial and was gone. Fifty-seven yards later he crossed the tape for a 7-0 Hudson lead with 9:11 to play in the first quarter.
"Kolby Miller came up with a huge play," Gough said. "That's something that coach [Ian] Kost has worked with the DBs on jumping that route. The kid made a play."
The Explorers' offense finally got its first touches some six plays later.
Falls fumbled at its own 25-yard line and Hudson's Enrique Rodriguez was there to pounce on it.
On the first play, the Black Tigers thought they caught a break when defensive lineman Damien Fleming rambled some 75 yards down the home sideline with an apparent fumble but the Hudson runner was ruled down before the ball came out.
A few plays later, the Explorers ran a hook and ladder on the Falls' sideline. Quarterback Jackson Parker hit Greg Mailey on a short pass. Mailey then pitched the ball to a trailing teammate, offensive lineman and punter Jonah Wieland. The senior went the remaining five yards for a 14-0 lead.
The Explorers soon make short work of a short field again.
A high snap in a Black Tiger punting situation sailed deep into Falls' territory and was eventually recovered by Rodriguez at the Black Tigers' 5. Two plays later, with 57 seconds left in the first quarter, Brady Ludewig plowed in for a 3-yard score and a 21-0 advantage.
Hudson's offense had just two first downs, 30 total yards and the ball for less than three minutes, but the Explorers led 21-0 after one.
"We are looking for a complete game," Gough said. "I think you saw it in the first quarter. It was defense, special teams and offense just executing and doing what they had to do."
The two teams combined for just four first downs for most of the second quarter.
Falls' fourth turnover of the game, a fumble recovered by Hudson's Danny Saxon, set up the Explorers for a last-second score before the half.
Two quick Parker-to-Mailey passes got Hudson close enough and as time expired, Grant Gonya booted his 23rd career field goal from 25 yards away for a 24-0 lead.
The running clock started early in the second half when the Explorers drove 67 yards in five plays. Junior running back Dawson Wervey (six carries for 37 yards) capped the march, racing around right end for a 6-yard score and a 30-0 lead.
Once again, Hudson showed its depth at running back.
With starting back Kevin Callahan out for the second straight week, Wervey and Ludewig got touchdowns, along with fourth string back Eddie Just.
Just, a junior, raced 35 yards to the end zone on a run off left tackle with 10 minutes, 21 seconds to play for a 37-0 lead. Just ended with 57 yards on seven carries to lead the Explorers.
The Black Tigers got their lone score with 6:25 left when quarterback Jake Vassalotti scored on a 2-yard run. Jake Gruic led Falls' ground game with 84 yards on 16 carries.
The late score ended a couple of Hudson shutout streaks. The Explorers had not allowed a touchdown in 10 straight quarters this season, dating back to the first quarter of week four at Nordonia (102-0 in that 10-quarter span).
Hudson also had kept the Black Tigers scoreless for 15 straight quarters over the past four years. Falls' last score against the Explorers took in 2012. Hudson scored 151 straight points during that span.