Miraculous catch helps Hudson football stay unbeaten with 38-28 win at Brecksville

Rob Barrone
Correspondent
Hudson running back Drew Lightner run off a block by wide receiver Cade Tonozzi during the Explorers' 38-28 win at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Sept. 4.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' “Immaculate Reception” in 1972 is often referred to as the greatest play in NFL history.

While Hudson’s Drew Lightner’s catch late in the fourth quarter in the Explorers’ 38-28 win at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Sept. 4 was not as dramatic, it was the play of the game in some eyes.

Clinging to a 31-28 lead and trying to keep the ball out of the hands of Iowa-bound Bees quarterback Joe Labas, Hudson faced a critical third-and-11 from its own 17. Quarterback Jacob Paltani rolled left and heaved a pass along the left sideline intended for Lightner.

It was basically a jump ball.

“I was looking at Drew. I knew it was third-and-long. … I probably shouldn’t have thrown it, but you got to give him a chance. I know he’s an athlete; he can go up and get it. I got hit so I have no idea what happened on that play,” Paltani said.

Hudson quarterback Jacob Paltani looks to throw during the Explorers' 38-28 win at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Sept. 4.

How many touched the ball on the pass?

“Probably three,” Lightner said. “I was going up for the ball and he (the Bees defender) was on me. He tipped it, I think I tipped it, someone else tipped it and then I caught it awkwardly.

"That was awesome," he added. "We needed it to keep the clock running and keep the ball in our hands. It was a big catch and an even bigger touchdown on the drive."

The wild 30-yard reception with 4:19 to play gave Hudson a first down. Six plays later, Aiden Lal scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:44 to play to ice the win.

“That was the play of the game right there,” head coach Jeff Gough said. “Drew hasn’t played a whole lot of receiver, but he’s a true football player. Kudos to Drew for coming down with it."

Paltani went 14 of 24 passing for 214 yards and 22 rushes for 163 yards in the game.

Why was keeping the ball from Labas and Brecksville’s offense important? That’s an easy answer based on their final numbers.

Brecksville had 489 total yards and 30 first downs. Labas completed 26 of 37 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown to go along with 13 rushes for 53 yards and another score.

Hudson totaled 479 yards with Paltani throwing for three scores and edging Labas in yards from scrimmage 377-362.

The win was “redemption” for the Explorers whose lone Suburban League loss last year came at the hands of the Bees.

“We called it redemption week. It came down to the last possession last year (a 35-28 loss at home). We felt like we, as a coaching staff, we let them down last year,” Gough said.

This time around the Bees' offense kept the ball for nearly the entire first quarter, thanks in part to the Hudson offense scoring quickly.

Brecksville kept the ball for 14 plays on the opening possession, twice converting on fourth downs. The drive finally stalled at the Hudson 29-yard line when they failed to convert on fourth-and-long.

By contrast, the Explorers struck quickly.

Paltani spotted junior wideout Colin Pierce over the middle. Pierce gathered in the pass in stride and outraced everyone for a 66-yard touchdown. Jake Vidmar’s extra point made the score 7-0.

Hudson’s defense barely had a chance to catch its breath.

This time, Labas and running back Garrett Kubitz led a 13-play, 65-yard march.

Kubitz scored form 5 yards out to tie the score at 7-7 with 19 seconds left in the first quarter. Kubitz finished with 27 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns.

After the first of Hudson’s two punts on the night, the Explorers stole the ball from Kubitz. Jonathan Heisa came out of a scrum with the ball.

Seven plays later, Lightner raced in from 17 yards out for a 14-7 lead. Lightner ended with 52 yards rushing on seven carries and had four catches for 51 yards.

Labas pulled his team even at 14-14 with a 15-yard run with 5:53 left in the first half. The play capped an 83-yard march.

Hudson answered by driving 55 yards before settling for a 29-yard field goal from Vidmar with 3:09 still on the clock for a 17-14 lead.

With Brecksville marching, Hudson's defense came up big again.

Jackson Thomas, who spent most of the night trying to stop the Bees’ Jeremy Jonozzo (12 receptions for 154 yards), forced a fumble at the Hudson 30-yard line. Lightner recovered from his linebacker spot with 1:21 on the clock.

A 33-yard pass to Pierce (six catches for 125 yards) gave Hudson a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. However, a sneak two plays later came up just short and the clock ran out before Paltani could spike the ball.

Hudson took the second-half kickoff and marched 71 yards in 12 plays. Paltani hit Luke McLaughlin for a 7-yard touchdown for a 24-14 lead.

Brecksville came right back, going 69 yards in eight plays. On fourth-and-1 from the 7, Kubitz powered in to cut the gap to 24-21.

It was the Explorers' turn again. Paltani’s 23-yard scramble up the middle on third-and-18 was the big play in the march. The senior capped off the effort by hitting junior Vincent Matolka for a 14-yard touchdown and a 31-21 lead with 3:10 left in the third.

Labas connected with Jonozzo for 35 yards on the next play and Brecksville was on the march again.

However, on fourth-and-11 from the Hudson 14, Labas could not connect with his favorite receiver.

“Our defense was incredible in the second half," Gough said. "Coach (Jake) Brandy made phenomenal adjustments. Jackson has worked so hard this off season. Being able to drive on that (pass) is really, really hard to do in high school."

With 5:30 left in the game, Labas found Luke Buckley for a 5-yard touchdown pass to make the score 31-28.

The Bees did not onside kick and had Hudson backed up until Lightner's miraculous catch.

After Lal’s score, Labas ran out of gas as his fourth-down pass to Jonozzo fell short with less than a minute to play.

Hudson will host Barberton Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.