Before the 2018 high school football season began, Hudson head football coach Jeff Gough pointed out that his Explorers would be in for a strong preseason slate.
"We have three really tough non-conference games — three Division I playoff caliber teams that we have to start off the season," he said at the time. "The big thing is staying healthy and make sure that we keep progressing so that when we enter the league we are ready to go."
The third-year head coach couldn’t have been more on point. The three teams (Austintown Fitch, Strongsville and Springfield) are now all 3-0 to start the year.
Springfield, out of the Dayton area, came to Hudson Memorial Stadium last Friday to face the Explorers for the first time ever.
While the Wildcats seemed in control for most of the game, the Explorers kept it close before finally succumbing by a 16-10 count.
With the loss, Hudson, fell to 0-3 but the Division II squad now heads into a predominantly Division II Suburban League National Conference schedule.
Stow is the only Division I opponent left on the slate. The Explorers are scheduled to make its 2018 conference debut at Brecksville-Broadview Heights (0-3) this Friday at 7 p.m.
Against the Wildcats, Hudson’s defense found itself with its backs to the wall repeatedly through the first three quarters. With stop after stop, the Explorers somehow trailed by just a 9-3 score midway through the fourth quarter.
After a late Springfield touchdown, the Explorers responded with one of their own at the two-minute mark.
For the second week in a row, it came down to a Jake Vidmar onside kick attempt. Unfortunately for the second straight week (Strongsville covered three such kicks in the fourth quarter in a 35-28 win), the opposition covered the boot to hold off Hudson.
"I’m really proud of our guys," Gough said. "I’m excited to see what we can do in this league. It’s going to be tough because our league is very tough, but this experience got us better.
"They [the Wildcats] are an outstanding team. If we had played like that in weeks one and two, I think we would have been able to get over the hump. We got better.
"We are getting better. Like I told our kids, that team helped us get better. The score didn’t say so, but the way we played ... the toughness, the attitude, the effort … we just need to carry that into league play."
Much of the excitement was over, but not limited to, the defense, which held off repeated Wildcat threats.
Springfield never punted through the first three quarters. On its first eight possessions, the Wildcats ran 48 total plays from scrimmage with 38 of those coming in Hudson territory.
Those drives ended with a missed field goal, turnover on downs, touchdown, turnover on downs, halftime clock expired with the ball at the Hudson 1-yard line, field goal, interception and on the eighth possession, finally, the first punt.
It was your prototypical bend-but-don’t-break defensive effort.
"The hardest thing in football and life, is when everything is stacked against you," Gough said. "How are you going to fight back? Just the execution from last week to this week was outstanding.
"You need someone to stand up and make a play. Go down the line with our defensive line: Grant Gedeon, Quinton Howell, Brendan Demuynck, Nate Slater, Jake Jagodzinski and a couple others. Those guys were given a pretty daunting task of stopping the run against a pretty potent run team and they did for the most part."
The Wildcats were able to rack up 420 yards in offense, but with their backs against the wall, Hudson’s defense answered the call again and again.
The Explorers’ backs were against the wall from the opening kickoff - literally. Larry Stephens took the opening kickoff back 45 yards to the Hudson 35. The threat ended when a 40-yard field goal try sailed wide right.
The Explorers followed with a punt and Stephens took it back 41 yards to Hudson’s 44. Four plays later on fourth and two, the Explorers’ defense stopped the drive.
Hudson’s offense then put together a 55-yard march to the Springfield 9. Brady Ludewig picked up 45 of those yards on eight carries, but the march stalled and Vidmar came on the kick a 26-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead as the first-quarter concluded.
Ludewig was later dinged up and left the game late in the first half, ending his night with 82 yards in 12 attempts.
"He should be all good for next week," Gough said. "Were at full strength and that’s a testament to what they have done in the off-season with our strength coach, Andrew Livingston."
The Wildcats answered the score, putting together an 11-play drive of their own. On third and goal from the 3, quarterback Raheim Moss was stopped on a run to his left, but on his way down, he alertly flipped the ball out to Jeff Tolliver at the last second. Tolliver strolled in for the score and a 6-3 lead as Braeden Carey’s extra point hit the left upright.
Moss and his squad nearly added to the lead on the final play of the first half. Throwing into the wind, Moss’ heave was pulled down in a crowd by Tolliver as time ran out. The play netted 41 yards but Tolliver made the catch at the 1 to end the half at 6-3.
Springfield looked to add on early in the second half, but the drive fizzled out at the Hudson 6. Carey kicked a 22-yard field goal to make the score 9-3.
On their next touch, the Wildcats drove again from their own 30 to the Explorers’ 3.
But the drive stalled when Hudson’s Dane DiGeronimo intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it to the Explorers’ 40.
Hudson had a promising drive end with an interception and Tolliver took advantage of the turnover with a 60-yard TD run to give Springfield a 16-3 advantage.
The Explorers finally got in the end zone with two minutes left.
Quarterback Liam Brennan completed a 15-yard scoring pass to Peyton Miller.
"That was great play call by Mark Ludewig and Mike Sheridan and I give credit to our offensive line," Gough said. "They [the Wildcats] were bringing heat all night long. Liam hung in there. We get down there and it was a great pass and great catch. It gave us a chance."
Running back Drew Lightner replaced Ludewig and finished with 73 yards on 17 carries.