High school football / Archbishop Hoban 31, Hudson 14: Knights use big second half to reach Div. II state semifinal

Brad Bournival
For the Beacon Journal
Hoban running back Victor Dawson, left, celebrates after a first down run against Hudson during the first half of a Division II regional final football game, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Akron, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Inspiration for the Archbishop Hoban football team sat just 1.2 miles away this season.

State champions from 2015-18, the Knights fell two rounds short of the final in 2019 at InfoCision Stadium.

It was the driving force in the Knights’ first eight games this season and it was there again Friday at Dowed Field in a 31-14 Division II, Region 5 final win over third-seeded Hudson.

It wasn’t always that way for Hoban (9-0), which lost 17-14 to Massillon in the regional final last season.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” Knights defensive back Alvin Stallworth said. “It did sting because prior to that year, the last two years it was all about the final four and the state championship for me. It was different for me, but it was all about what [coach Tim Tyrrell] says — ‘When adversity hits. It’s how you respond.’ We came back and responded all season even through COVID.”

No one who played in last season’s regional final loss to the Tigers forgot that feeling.

“That game was huge for us because that ended the chance at a five-peat,” Knights safety Kharion Davis said. “It pushed us to work harder. The only thing I was thinking about this year as a senior was winning the ‘Ship.’ Last season, it killed me.”

Given the chance to get back, top-ranked Hoban didn’t disappoint and will play Region 6 winner Avon (10-0), which beat Avon Lake 20-17 on a 30-yard field goal as time expired.

That’s a tale for next week. This week was about stopping a Hudson attack and the Hoban defense.

While Lamar Sperling (20 carries, 119 yards, 3 TDs) and Victor Dawson (15 carries, 105 yards) spurred the Knights on offense, defense was the name of the game.

The first big stop for the Knights came at the end of the first half when they stymied Hudson on three consecutive plays from the 1-yard line to keep it 14-14 at the break.

The second left hook came from Stallworth, who intercepted a pass by Hudson quarterback Jacob Paltani (18-for-25, 210 yards, TD) after Hoban had just taken the lead on a field goal to start the third quarter.

Hudson quarterback Jacob Paltani, left, is sacked by Hoban's Kharion Davis during the second half of a Division II regional final football game, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Akron, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Stallworth’s interception produced a 10-play, 48-yard drive and 10-point advantage.

After that, Davis' fourth-down stop just outside the red zone to start the fourth led to another scoring drive by the Knights and it was all over but the shouting.

“They’re the best defense in the state,” Hudson coach Jeff Gough said. “We threw a lot at them. The kids had to pick up a lot. We tried to execute, but at some point, great defenses are going to make great plays. The goal-line stand was a great job by their kids.

"It was a stalemate for a while there, but they broke the dam at the end. I told the kids, I would love to line it up and do it again.”

The second half really was the difference. The Explorers punched the Knights in the mouth a bit with 262 yards of offense in the first half. Hudson (9-1) managed just 97 yards in the second half and was kept off the field for 8:52 in the third quarter.

“I have all the respect in the world for Hudson,” Tyrrell said. “They came out and confused us a bit with some different formations. My hat goes off to our coaches. They made great adjustments.”

Up next is a rematch of the 2017 and 2018 state semifinals against Avon, both of which were won by Hoban.

But Tyrrell knows that was then and this is now and nothing from those seasons matter.

“We play a great Avon team that we’ve seen three of the last four years,” Tyrrell said. “They’re a great coached team that has great players. They do a great job up there. It’s one of those things where we’re going to have to grind a lot like this and push out a good game.”

The season ends for Hudson, but the memories of a regional final showing won’t be lost.

“I’m really proud of our senior leaders,” Gough said. “There’s 34 of them and all of them had a role. I wouldn’t be here without those guys.”

Hoban's Markim McKinnie, right, nearly intercepts a pass intended for Hudson receiver Cade Tonozzi during the second half of a Division II regional final football game, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Akron, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]
Hoban running back Victor Dawson stiff arms Hudson's John Innamorato as he rushes down the sideline to pick up a first down during the second half of a Division II regional final football game, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Akron, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]