Hudson football rolls past Highland to remain unbeaten

Rob Barrone
Correspondent
Hudson's Vincent Matolka returns a kickoff during the Explorers' 42-21 win at Medina Highland Sept. 24.

With five of the six regular-season football games in the books and the Hudson squad still perfect at 5-0 they are not shooting for a 6-0 mark when they face off with winless North Royalton on Oct. 2 at Hudson Memorial Stadium.

Hudson coach Jeff Gough explained after his team’s latest win 42-21 at Highland Sept. 25.

“Our mentality is 1-0 every week. Highland is a fantastic program …they are a constant playoff contender. It is awesome that we were able to come to their place and come out of here with a win,” Gough said. “We want to go 1-0 to finish the season (against the Bears) in one of most crazy off-seasons, I guarantee, in our 100 year history.”

That one game at a time mentality will now look ahead to North Royalton. The Bears dropped to 0-5 after their 62-14 loss to Nordonia in week five.

As for Highland, the COVID-19 created match-up was a blast from the past, as it was the team's first game in more than two decades. The win over the Hornets has Hudson with a 19-5 mark against them all-time.

Hudson's offense stayed hot, scoring touchdowns on five consecutive possessions in the first half to take a commanding 35-7 lead to halftime.

The longest drive, time wise, took 1:41 and took six plays to cover the 49 yards. That march featured a potential look ahead to next year with sophomore Jagger Pallay taking the snaps and juniors Aiden Lal and Ryan Evans in the backfield.

Pallay scrambled twice in the possession for 18 yards and hit Vince Matolka for 22 yards on his only pass attempt in the drive. Lal, who had his second straight 100-yard game rushing (9-105 yards), finished off the push going in from two yards out to push the advantage to 28-7.

For two years now, Hudson's offense has been of the hurry-up variety. The offensive line that has paved the way for 499 yards and 47.8 points per game loves it.

Hudson running back Aiden Lal runs a sweep during the Explorers' 42-21 win at Medina Highland Sept. 25.

Senior linemen Kevin Toth and Orion Beh both echoed those sentiments after a 469-yard, 42-point evening at Highland.

“I love running it; it works really well. Obviously I play just a small part in it; there are 10 other guys who can make plays,” Beh said. “This was a great win; we get to celebrate tonight and then were on to North Royalton.”

“We are so excited to run it (the hurry-up offense),” Toth added. “Like Orion said we play a small part in it, it takes 11 guys to do it. We trained so hard in the off-season."

Drew Lightner had his 12th career 100-yard rushing game, picking up 147 yards on 12 carries and scoring twice. He has scored 12 touchdowns this year.

With his 105 yards, Lal made it the third time this year that two Hudson rushers had over 100-yards in the same game.

Hudson running back Drew Lightner looks for running room during the Explorers' 42-21 win at Medina Highland Sept. 25.

Lal has six touchdowns in the past two weeks and has eight on the year along with an 8.5 yards per carry average.

“I blocked for them last year. They are great,” Toth said of the backfield. “Even if you miss a block, they can shed a tackle. They make me look good when I do bad.”

At Highland, the Explorers’ offense stumbled a bit out of the gate but the defense picked them up.

The game’s first possession ended in a 49-yard Caleb Junko punt that went into the end-zone.

The Hornets first play from scrimmage was a fumbled handoff that Jacob Clary pounced on for the locals.

Eighteen yards from pay-dirt Hudson took just 18 seconds to score first. Lightner pounded out gains of 12 and then six yards for the score up the middle. Jake Vidmar’s extra-point (6-6 on the night) made the score 7-0.

Highland looked like they would make a game of it when it drove 80 yards for a game-tying 1-yard burst by sophomore Lukas Stiles.

However, the Explorers offense was in high gear and the defense would make plays when they had to.

Hudson took the lead for good at 14-7 late in the first quarter after a gamble on fourth and one from its own 46 saw Lal pick up two yards. On the next play Lal raced 43 yards to set up a 10-yard touchdown run up the gut by Paltani.

On their next touch the Hornets punted on fourth and 13 from the Hudson 36. The Blue and White then began to pull away; Lightner capped off a three-play drive with a 2-yard run after he raced 47 yards on the first play and Paltani hooked up with Cade Tonozzi for 31-yards on the second.

The lead ballooned to 28-7 a few minutes later when Lal scored on his 2-yard run with the all-underclassmen backfield.

Highland had a chance to answer after 72-yard reception and run by Bryce Turek down to the Hudson eight. Two plays later the Hornets fumbled just short of the goal and Adam Oscarson recovered in the end-zone for a touchback.

An 80-yard march followed that second turnover by the hosts. On the fifth play Paltani (8-11 for 103 yards on the night) hit Colin Pierce just inside the end-zone by the right, front pylon.

Despite a vicious hit, Pierce held on for a 16-yard score and a 35-7 lead. Lal’s late touchdown run was called back for holding and the half ended there at 35-7.

The Hornets wouldn’t go away closing to 35-14 late in the third but the first team offense finished up its night’s work with Lal scoring from a yard out for a 42-14 advantage.

The hosts cut the gap to 42-21 in the fourth quarter.

Junko, who had kicked eight of nine kickoffs into the end-zone the previous week at Wadsworth was at it again against the Hornets. The senior punter/long kicker was 6-7 on kickoffs for touchbacks and had two punts for 49 yards.

“Both of our kickers have been great. Vids (Vidmar) is automatic (106-107 on extra points in his career and Caleb has been improving every single week. I love that,” Gough said.