STOW — Emotions always run high when Hudson and Stow get together to play football.
Friday night was no different when the Explorers and Bulldogs met in a Suburban League National Conference game.
There were several big plays and the one who made the most big plays was Hudson junior quarterback Jacob Paltani, who led the Explorers to a 45-29 win at Bulldog Stadium.
"I think we locked up a [Division II] playoff spot tonight and that was one of our goals," Hudson head coach Jeff Gough said. "Our No. 1 goal, though, is to compete in this league because it is so competitive. After we lost to Brecksville, we have been trying to fight our way back and we have been going 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. The goal all week was 1-0 and [it] gives ourselves a chance to get a share of that league championship."
Paltani, who is 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds, ran for 162 yards and four touchdowns on 26 carries. He also completed 10-of-14 passes for 172 yards.
"He makes plays happen with his feet, you saw it again," Gough said. "And when he needs to, he makes plays happen with his arm. The kids follow him. He is incredibly tough because he is not the biggest dude out here."
Paltani spread the ball around to five receivers — Alex Oppelt, Colin Pierce, Luke McLaughlin, Drew Lightner and Michael Roberts.
Lightner, a junior, ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
"Last year, we faced some adversity when we played Stow at home," Paltani said. "We lost that game, [post-game] fireworks were going off and they were celebrating on our field. That really stuck with me, so I brought that [to this game Friday]."
Paltani and Gough also praised the play of the Hudson offensive linemen — Evan Knipp, Chris Slater, Alex Movshin, Mason McLaughlin, Kevin Toth and Colin Koennecke.
The Explorers (6-3, 5-1) and Bulldogs (5-4, 2-4) each scored three touchdowns in the first half to make it 21-21 at halftime.
Stow sophomore Xavier Preston scored on touchdown runs of 4 yards and 2 yards, respectively, and sophomore Owen Bainbridge threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to junior Dalen Stovall.
Paltani accounted for all three of Hudson’s first-half touchdowns. He reached the end zone on runs of 24, 2 and 2 yards.
The Explorers took a 24-21 lead with a 31-yard field goal by junior Jake Vidmar with 9 minutes, 31 seconds to go in the third quarter. Stow responded with a drive that stalled on Hudson's 4-yard line.
Lightner scored touchdowns on runs of 4 yards with 2:02 to go in the third quarter and 1-yard with 9:53 left in the fourth quarter, and Paltani broke loose and ran up the middle for a 36-yard touchdown with 4:24 to go in the fourth quarter.
Bainbridge ran for a 7-yard touchdown with 2:58 left.
Preston ran 30 times for 180 yards and Bainbridge completed 21-of-33 passes for 254 yards.
Hudson’s one-year playoff hiatus may be over. The Explorers entered the game fifth in the Division II, Region 5 rankings. The top eight teams in each region advance to the postseason.
Hudson is scheduled to visit National Conference rival Twinsburg Nov. 1 at Tiger Stadium.
The Bulldogs are set to visit conference archrival Cuyahoga Falls Nov. 1 at Clifford Stadium. Kickoff for both games is scheduled for 7 p.m.