HUDSON — Run vs. pass.
Friday’s game featured two offenses with different ways to get to the end zone. The Hudson football team came into the matchup with Suburban League National Conference rival North Royalton with a plan to run the ball.
Meanwhile, the Bears’ hopes hinged on the arm of quarterback Joe Marousek.
In a seesaw battle for much of the night, the Explorers’ ground game eventually prevailed 31-21 at Hudson Memorial Stadium.
The victory lifts Hudson to 2-4 overall and 2-1 in National Conference play. North Royalton dipped to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the conference.
The lead changed hands six times on the crisp fall evening. When the Bears recovered a surprise onside kick late in the third quarter, they had a shot at a double-digit lead, but the wide-open receiver dropped the pass and the score remained 21-17 in favor of the Explorers.
Hudson’s defense seemed rejuvenated with the second chance, limiting the Bears to 24 yards in their final 17 plays from scrimmage, following the drop.
Hudson’s offense then took control.
Keeping the ball on the ground for 19 of their next 20 plays (the lone pass fell incomplete), the Explorers piled up 164 rushing yards, scoring both the go-ahead touchdown and another for good measure in the fourth quarter.
"The game plan was run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, run the ball," said senior captain Nathan Slater, an offensive tackle. "It worked phenomenally. I love the feeling of watching the running back streak down for 15- to 20-yard gains."
Slater was pretty happy much of the night as Hudson’s one-two punch at running back came up big. The Explorers gained more than 15 yards on running plays.
The Bears’ longest run was 14 yards. North Royalton ended with 43 rushing yards on 26 carries, while the Explorers totaled 394 yards in 44 attempts.
Senior Brady Ludewig carried the ball 35 times for 259 yards and two touchdowns. The 259 yards on the ground is the fourth most in school history behind Josh Holden (333 in 1998), Ben Gedeon (290 in 2011) and Bryan McCullough (269 in 1994). Gedeon’s big night also came against the Bears.
When Ludewig got his much deserved breathers, sophomore Drew Lightner didn’t miss a beat. Lightner added two touchdowns as well with 133 yards on just eight carries.
"They (Ludewig and Lightner) have the best work ethic on the team," Slater said. "They will not stop. It took doctors to stop Brady from coming back on the field. All Drew wants to do is run the ball behind us.
"If we could hand off both of them the ball at the same time, I would. These guys are phenomenal. I love blocking for them."
Hudson head coach Jeff Gough also had praise for his running backs and line.
"You have it give it up to our offensive line just grinding," he said. "Drew and Brady were taking turns. I’m really proud of both of them.
"Brady is a hard patient runner. I love how he kept falling forward on every play. But none of that is possible without the offensive line: Sean McStay, Nathan Slater, Mason McLaughlin, Cajen Spohn and Brandon Lal. They did an outstanding job."
Marousek, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns, set up first and goal with an eight-yard run.
However, Hudson’s defense stiffened and on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line as Patrick McKeon broke up a pass in the end zone.
"That goal-line stand was fantastic," Gough said.
The Explorers responded by getting to North Royalton’s 6. But the drive fizzled and Jake Vidmar made it 3-0 with a 23-yard field goal.
The seesaw ride then began.
The Bears took their first lead at 7-3 on a 5-yard TD pass from Marousek to Bradley Kmetz with 7:17 left in the first half.
Hudson countered with a quick 77-yard, four-play strike — all on the ground. Ludewig ripped off a 34-yard run on the second play and two plays later, Lightner ran 36 yards up the middle for a touchdown. The Explorers were back on top 10-7 with 5 minutes, 44 seconds to play in the half.
The Bears had an answer.
Marousek passed for 61 yards on the next possession and added a 14-yard run on a draw. His pass to Nick Evanko from 14 yards out put North Royalton back on top 14-10 at the 2:57 mark.
An 80-yard drive had a mix of passes and runs to beat the clock before intermission. Liam Brennan (8-of-15; 79 yards for the game) was 5-of-7 (including a spike to stop the clock) for 46 yards in the march that ended with Ludewig racing the final four yards. The score with 17 ticks on the clock put Hudson up 17-14 at the break.
The Explorers had a promising drive stall with an interception inside the red zone to start the second half.
North Royalton took advantage and looked to break the game open. Marousek marched his team 89 yards ending on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kmetz. With 4:07 left in the third quarter, the Bears were back in front 21-17.
The surprise onside kick followed and a fortunate bounce gave North Royalton the ball again. On the first play. a jet sweep pass had touchdown written all over it but the wide-open receiver dropped the ball.
With new life, the Hudson defense turned it up from there, forcing a punt. Marousek completed just 5 of 13 passes for 31 yards after the crucial drop.
The Explorers regained the lead for good with 9:23 left in regulation.
Ludewig raced 28 yards to cap a 12-play, 84-yard march and put Hudson on top 24-21.
The Bears marched to midfield following the touchdown, but a Marousek pass deep down the middle was picked off by Merrick Widdoes.
Hudson looked to run off as much clock as possible, taking nearly four and a half minutes off the scoreboard until Lightner turned the lights off with a 37-yard burst for a 31-21 lead with 1:51 left.
North Royalton’s last hopes on fourth-and-long were dashed when Widdoes batted the ball down with authority to set up victory formation on the final play.
"This win felt good," Ludewig said. "They (the Bears) were supposed to be one of the top teams this year in the Suburban League. We came out firing."
The victory upped the Explorers’ all-time mark against the Bears to 6-0.
Hudson is scheduled to visit National Conference foe Cuyahoga Falls this Friday at Clifford Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The Explorers have a 16-game winning streak against the Black Tigers.