Hudson football finishes regular season unbeaten with rout of North Royalton

Rob Barrone
Correspondent
Hudson quarterback Jacob Paltani works a read option play with Aiden Lal during the Explorers' 53-0 home win over North Royalton Oct. 2 at Hudson Memorial Stadium.

Hudson football produced plenty of big news last week.

On Oct. 1, Hudson was seeded third in the Division II, Region 5 playoff brackets. It received a bye in the first round and will face the Akron Ellet (2-0)–Bedford (3-3) winner Oct. 16 at Hudson Memorial Stadium in round two.

The Explorers scored 50 points against North Royalton in the first half of the COVID-19 style regular season finale. The effort allowed Hudson to finish the regular season undefeated at 6-0 with 53-0 thumping of the Bears (0-6) at Homecoming Oct. 2.

Hudson’s defense pitched its first shutout in two years limiting North Royalton to just six first downs, 90 yards of total offense and only nine yards rushing.

Meanwhile, quarterback Jacob Paltani and his receivers connected on nine of ten passes for 220 yards and three scores.

Coming into the game the Explorers had been allowing four touchdowns (28 points) per game on average. Of course,  the offense has averaged 48.7 ppg thus far.

"For our defense to come out and play like they did…” head coach Jeff Gough said. “We have really been pushing the defense hard in practice, putting them in adverse situations. We let them know you don’t have to be perfect but your effort has to be perfect. You saw that tonight with some of the effort plays and the attention to detail. I’m incredibly proud …we played a lot of guys tonight and I don’t think there was a let-up."

The goose egg was the Explorers first since a win 27-0 win over Brecksville in 2018.

Hudson running back Drew Lightner powers into the end zone during the Explorers' 53-0 home win over North Royalton Oct. 2 at Hudson Memorial Stadium.

“It was our scheme coming into the week. We had everybody focusing up; all the way from varsity to JV. We executed on all levels; our D-line, linebackers and D-B’s all did great,” senior linebacker Johnathan Heisa said. “Overall our defense did a really great job from our seniors all the way to our sophomores.”

The defense had one scare as the Bears crossed midfield just two times. The first came in the first quarter with the hosts already up 14-0. On a second down play from the Explorers 29-yard line Bear’s quarterback Michael Piazza lofted a long one to the back of the end-zone.

Hudson junior Ryan Evans came down with the jump ball for his second interception of the year.

North Royalton’s only other trip across the fifty ended on downs on the Hudson 42 yard line early in the second quarter.

While the defense was stymieing the Bears, the offense was scoring a school record 50 first half points with 36 coming in the second quarter.

Paltani came out hot hitting his first eight passes. A Paltani-to-Luke-McLaughlin pass over the middle went for 44 yards to spark Hudson’s first possession.

Two plays later, Drew Lightner capped the 68-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run. Jake Vidmar (6-6 on extra points and 1-3 on field goal tries) tacked on the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

Brendan Demuynck recorded his second sack of Piazza in the game already to force a North Royalton punt.

Colin Pierce came off the edge to block the kick and Hudson took over just 23 yards from pay-dirt. Pierce was rewarded for his special teams gem just five seconds later.

Paltani hit Pierce in the end-zone on the first play for a 14-0 lead with 6:36 left in the first quarter.

“The block; everybody did their job and Pierce happened to be the guy unblocked. I’m proud of him,” Gough said. “That (the TD seconds later) wasn’t specifically designed for him. They came up in man and we tried to run one of our plays designed for man. Jacob saw it, Colin saw it. What I loved is Colin came off and he said, 'man I’m glad you saw that cover zero too.'”

The lead ballooned to 50 points when the Explorers scored 36 points in a span of less than eleven minutes in the second period.

It started with a Paltani to McLaughlin bomb that was good for a 38-yard touchdown. McLaughlin ended with two catches for 82 yards. Trouble with the snap and hold on the extra-point turned into two points as Paltani hit Cade Tonozzi in the back of the end-zone for a 22-0 lead.

The next drive saw Tonozzi (two receptions for 63 yards) grab a 30-yarder to set up the next score. The Explorers tried to reward the senior in the end-zone twice. The first had defensive pass interference and the second was Paltani’s only incomplete on the night. On the next play Aiden Lal got his ninth rushing touchdown of the year going in from a yard out for a 29-0 lead.

Thirty-six to nothing took just 37 seconds off the clock. On the third play of a 57-yard drive Tonozzi finally got his first touchdown when Paltani unloaded another bomb for a 33-yard strike.

Lightner picked up his second touchdown of the night, 14th of the year and 36th of his career topping off a 62-yard march with a three-yard spurt up the middle. Sophomore quarterback Jagger Pallay took over at the helm for this drive and had a big third down conversion to Vincent Matolka. Hudson led 43-0.

Gough called off the dogs not using time-outs when the Bears were backed up late in the half. North Royalton punted and sophomore Gio DePompei returned it 28 yards to the visitors 25 with 43 seconds left. Without using time-outs or going to the air the Explorers made it 50-0 with a one-yard touchdown burst by sophomore Ronan Spohn with eight seconds left.

On the first touch of the second half Pallay led a 52-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard field goal by Vidmar. Pallay rushed for 48 yards on six carries to finish second on the night in yards rushing to Lightner’s 68 yards (ten carries).

Hudson amassed 538 yards of offense; 289 yards passing and 249 rushing. Surprisingly the night’s longest plays came from the reserves; the longest pass completion was a hook-up from third string quarterback Jack Florig to Andrew Oscarson. The Bears d-back ran into Oscarson early but somehow the senior still made the catch in front of the Hudson bench and then raced down the sideline for a 53-yard pickup in the fourth quarter.

The longest run was turned in by fourth string quarterback Shane Kilfoyle as he raced around left end for 32 yards in the final minutes. He was rewarded with the opportunity to take a knee three times in victory formation.

With the win the Explorers completed the ninth unbeaten regular season in the schools 101 years of competitive football.

“This is an amazing feeling. If you told me my sophomore season (2018) when we were 3-7 that we would be 6-0 and undefeated it would have been hard to believe,” Heisa, who recovered a muffed punt in the second half, added. “…especially with the virus. It was hard but we did it …we came through with an undefeated season. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

Hudson will continue to practice for the next two weeks and await the winner of the Ellet-Bedford contest.