STRONGSVILLE — In its season opener, the Hudson football team was in control for much of the first three quarters before fading down the stretch.
On Friday, the Explorers finished strong, but they struggled in the first three quarters.
One way or another, Hudson finds itself with an unfamiliar label after the first two weeks of the season.
Despite scoring three touchdowns in the last six minutes, 67 seconds of the game, the Explorers dropped to 0-2 in 2018 after falling to host Strongsville 35-28 at Pat Catan Stadium.
The Mustangs took a 28-7 lead with 7:28 remaining when quarterback Jony Major completed a 4-yard pass to Nick Adams.
That score was the start of what would be a five-touchdown outburst.
Hudson scored three times, using an average of just 59 seconds per drive. The Explorers amassed 204 yards in drives of 64, 73 and 67 yards, respectively, that took a total of less than three minutes off the clock.
Unfortunately, Strongsville also scored to put the finishing touches on the win. "It was nice to see a two minute-situation," third-year head coach Jeff Gough said. "We got behind the defense a couple of times. It was definitely something to build on. We took a step forward, but we didn’t get the win."
The late rally got a shot of adrenaline from running back Brady Ludewig.
A week after his 33-carry, 185-yard rushing performance in a 20-9 loss to Austintown-Fitch the previous week, the senior ran the ball for 79 yards in 21 attempts and added three catches for 67 more yards.
None of Ludewig’s yards were more exciting than his 48-yard ramble on a screen pass early in the fourth. With three blockers in front, Ludewig took in the pass along the left sideline. Once he had used his blocks for what he could, Ludewig weaved and darted through the secondary breaking tackle after tackle.
He was finally dragged down at the Mustangs’ 15-yard line. He eventually scored on a 3-yard TD run to the right side.
Jake Vidmar’s extra point cut the gap to 28-14 with 6:37 left.
"I think that picked us up a little bit and everybody started getting into the groove of things," Ludewig said.
"That was pretty exciting," Gough said. "He has always given us 100 percent when he gets the ball in his hands. You saw that whether it was running the ball or catching a screen pass."
Vidmar’s ensuing onside kick was covered by Strongsville (2-0) and it would be up to the defense to get the ball back.
After completing 11 of 12 passes for 135 yards, Major’s final two attempts fell incomplete, giving Hudson the ball back on downs.
The Explorers picked up where they left off.
Quarterback Liam Brennan found his groove, marching his squad down the field through the air. A Brennan to Brandon Lal gain of 36 yards was a big spark in the march. Lal had three catches for 52 yards.
Thanks to a couple of penalties, Hudson faced a fourth-and-18 situation. Brennan completed a pass to wide receiver Zach Palmer in the middle of the field. Palmer did the rest and raced around the right end for a 30-yard touchdown.
"Zach made a great catch and run," Gough said. "There is no play for fourth and 20. That was just great effort by them. Liam getting the ball out as well. That was just fun to watch."
The lead was cut to 28-21 with 2:21 to play but again the onside kick attempt was covered by the Mustangs. Two plays later, Strongsville’s Taylor Griffin burst through the Hudson line and was off to the races for a 46-yard touchdown and a 35-21 lead with 1:24 left.
Despite a sack on the first play, the Explorers pushed the ball downfield.
A fourth-and-three completion to Luke McLaughlin for five yards kept the drive alive and Brennan hit Peyton Miller on a post pattern with a perfect toss and catch in tight coverage.
The 54-yard bomb made it a one-score game again with 21 seconds to play, but Strongsville handled the onside kick on the clock ran out.
Brennan ended the night with 267 yards passing and two scores, completing 15 of 24 passes, 199 of those yards came in the fourth quarter.
"I have one of the best lines in the state, obviously," Brennan said. "I know my line has my back and I got theirs, throwing the ball for them."
Hudson fell behind early when the Mustangs cashed in on a 14-yard run by Griffin for a 7-0 lead on the game’s first possession.
The Explorers countered with a 1-yard sneak by Brennan on the first play of the second quarter to knot things up at 7-7.
Major answered with a 45-yard dash for a 14-7 lead. After the game’s lone turnover, Strongsville upped the advantage to 21-7 with Griffin scoring from a yard out with 32 seconds left in the first half.
Hudson is scheduled to host Springfield this Friday at Hudson Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.