Finally on the field, Hudson football's offense leads to win over Nordonia in opener
There has probably never been a high school football season with more doubts coming in.
COVID-19 is still for real so there is still a week-to-week battle to keep the season alive and everyone safe.
When the question of whether to play was answered just 10 days earlier, the year was set to begin for Hudson and Nordonia Aug. 28 at Hudson’s Memorial Stadium.
However, even that became doubtful as thunderstorms strafed Northeast Ohio most of that day. Lightning in the area postponed the kickoff for an hour and a half.
The long anticipated 2020 season was underway when Knights senior kicker Andrew Lastovka blasted the opening kickoff through the end-zone.
Things started off fairly well for the visitors, who grabbed an early 6-0 lead, but the Explorers offense picked up where it left off last year, as Hudson scored a 50-27 win.
For coaches Jeff Fox of Nordonia and Jeff Gough of Hudson, just getting the season underway was a victory.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to play the great game of football. It [the pandemic] teaches you about taking it for granted. The kids had fun and played with passion tonight,” Fox noted.
“As we look back at the night it’s just kind of a microcosm for the summer,” Gough said. “This is your adversity. The hard work they have put in and how they have overcome that summer of struggle -- are we going to play? Are we not going to play? I’m so proud of them. They were ready to go and it (the weather delay) really didn’t bother them.”
Two plays into the season, a fumble on a first down run by Drew Lightner was recovered by the Knights Jon Banks at the Hudson 31 yard line. Lightner would atone for his turnover with three touchdowns on the night and a game high 139 yards on 28 carries.
Nordonia took advantage of the great field position converting two third-and-long situations in a nine-play trek.
Senior running back Sal Perrine scored the first of his two touchdowns on the night going in over left tackle from five yards out for a 6-0 lead. Lastovka’s extra-point hit the right upright with 8:42 left in the first quarter.
Hudson rebounded scoring touchdowns on four of its next five touches to pull out to a 28-6 advantage.
By game’s end the hosts ran off 80-plays with their hyperactive pace. Hudson stayed on the ground primarily, in the rain, amassing 382 yards rushing on 69 attempts and 479 yards in total offense.
Two plays after the Knights drew first blood, Hudson senior quarterback Jacob Paltani hooked up with classmate Luke McLaughlin on a bomb. The 63-yard pickup kick-started the offense. Three plays later, Lightner plowed up the middle for a four-yard score.
Jake Vidmar converted the first of his six extra points (along with two field goals) and Hudson led 7-6 just 40 seconds after the visitors' score.
Two possessions later, the Explorers marched 70 yards in 11 plays. Junior Aiden Lal capped the effort with a six-yard run just four seconds into the second quarter.
In the second period, with the wind now at their backs, the Explorers drove 49 yards (all on the ground) in eight plays. Lightner scored from two yards out for a 21-6 lead.
On their next possession, the hosts covered 54 yards in nine plays. Paltani took it in around right end from 10 yards out for the 28-6 score, with 2:53 left in the first half.
Paltani ended with 101 yards rushing on 17 rushes along with a 4-10 passing night for 97 yards.
The Knights answered covering 80 yards in six plays.
Perrine (26 carries for 130 yards for the game) had the longest run from scrimmage racing 26 yards on a key third and eight snap.
Three plays later, senior quarterback Billy Levak (17-32 for 172 yards) went to Joel Jones on the left side. Jones climbed the latter to snare the pass and then slipped tackle after tackle on his way to a 38-yard touchdown catch and run.
Jones would later score again.
“He is one heck of a football player. Joel was a spark for sure tonight,” Fox said. “He’s a special player.”
A two-point conversion run failed leaving the score 28-12 with 47 seconds left in the first half.
The Explorers tried to get on the board one more time before intermission but in the final seconds Paltani was picked off by Bryan Russ.
Nordonia's second half began with a special team's miscue in the end zone. A high snap could not be handled by Lastovka and the ball went across the back line for a safety, giving Hudson a 30-12 lead.
On the ensuing on-side kickoff attempt, Cade Tonozzi recovered for Hudson just 26 yards from pay dirt. Three plays later junior running back Ryan Evans went 15 yards over left tackle for a 37-12 lead.
After a second straight three and out by the Knights offense Hudson was back in business at the visitor’s 36 yard-line after Lastovka’s boot was partially blocked. The drive stalled but Vidmar knocked through a 33-yard field goal for a 40-12 score.
Levak completed a five-yard pass to Cooper Rusk (6 receptions for 37 yards) on a fourth and four gamble early in Nordonia’s next possession. Two plays later he found Jon Henderson for a 32-yard bomb. The march ended with Levak hitting for a 31 yard touchdown with 3:57 left in the third period.
Perrine took the ball over the right side and was stood up by a bevy of Hudson defenders. Perrine lateraled to Levak, who headed left but ran out of space quickly. He then lateraled back right to Perrine. The latter avoided tacklers and raced around left end for the two points and a 40-20 score.
“That shows the competitiveness and fight in our kids. A lot of these kids are veterans they have shown over time their character …they are going to continue to fight regardless of what the scoreboard says or the situation. I’m extremely proud of that,” Fox said.
The Explorers replied with a 14-play, 88-yard drive on their next touch. Lightner did the bulk of the work and capped off his three-score night going the final three yards to up the lead to 47-20 with 11:47 to play.
Hudson got its final points and started the running clock when Vidmar booted a 32-yard field goal .
Nordonia put together one last touchdown drive with Perrine capping it off with a four-yard touchdown run.
“This is going to be an interesting year. We’ve had a seven month COVID delay and then a lightning delay. The rest of this year will continue to be ways to adjust. Playoffs are going to be weird but its going to be a lot of fun,” Fox said.
“This was a great team effort against a really good football team with a lot of guys back. To come out and execute like that without a scrimmage or no film,” Gough shrugged. “It really came down to the kids and their desire to execute. I just love watching them play. I can’t wait until next week.”
Hudson will travel to Brecksville-Broadview Heights (1-0) Friday, while Nordonia host (0-1) Barberton.