Hudson football shows no rust in playoff rout of Bedford

Rob Barrone
Hudson wide receiver Luke McLaughlin looks for running room during the Explorers' 42-0 home playoff win over Bedford Oct. 16.
Hudson quarterback Jacob Paltani breaks a tackle during the Explorers' 42-0 win over Bedford Oct. 16 in a Division II playoff game at Memorial Stadium.

After crushing North Royalton 53-0 in its regular season finale Oct. 2, the Hudson Explorers got a bye week as the third seed of the Division II, Region 5 playoffs.

How would A Friday off affect them when they opened postseason play hosting a 4-3 Bedford squad at Hudson Memorial Stadium Oct. 16?

Senior Drew Lightner wasted no time showing the layoff was not a problem. On the opening kickoff he ran right up the middle for a career high 58 yard return to the Bearcats’ 27-yard line.

The Explorers never looked back blanking Bedford 42-0 to advance to the third round of playoffs. They will host No. 6 seed Painesville Riverside Oct. 23, who edged Boardman 39-28 to improve to 6-1 on the year.

“We’ve been waiting for that spark; coach (Jackson) Parker does a great job with the special teams. It looked like a body on a body and Drew found a seam. To start the game like that it definitely gives everybody a jolt of energy,” head coach Jeff Gough explained.

As for the time off?

“We practiced hard that week. It was great; it allowed us to fine-tune some things and go back to basics. It was weird not seeing the kids on a Friday night; I think I put on five or six pounds,” Gough laughed. “For them to come out after not playing for 14 days and display this kind of effort and execution against a team that was kind of rolling …”

Hudson (7-0) scored the first touchdown on a seven-yard run by Lightner just 1:32 into the game and then ran the score up to 35-0 midway through the second quarter. For the second week in a row the starter’s night was over before intermission.

“It felt like we hadn’t played football in forever,” quarterback Jacob Paltani said. “We were just ready to get back after it.”

Paltani had his first career touchdown reception; an eight-yard pass from Lightner on “Thunder Throw-Back." Paltani gave the ball to Lightner then snuck out of the backfield on the left side. Lightner was overwhelmed by a pack of Bearcats, but managed to get the pass off to his, wide-open, teammate for six.

“They are a big man-and-blitz team. The way Drew stood in there was great and to watch Jacob come down with it …he’s probably some of the best hands on the team,” Gough said.

“Coach was telling us all week that we might have to run that play because this (the Bedford) defense is pretty aggressive. We practiced that play endlessly. Originally we practiced Aiden (Lal) throwing it but he wasn’t the best at it,” Paltani said. “…so Aiden and Drew just switched. It worked out …it was fun.”

The trio of backs Paltani, Lightner and Lal each had two touchdowns on the night with Paltani getting a rare trifecta of scores; passing, receiving and running for one of each.

Paltani completed a 58-yard bomb to Lal for Hudson’s second score and a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Lightner recorded his second touchdown racing 34 yards up the middle for a “FOX8 Sky Score” through a huge whole created by the offensive line to make the score 21-0.

Paltani got the second leg of his trifecta scoring on an eleven-yard run over right tackle to run the score up to 28-0.

On the next possession facing a third and seven from the Bedford eight-yard line the gadget play came out of the playbook. Lightner was swarmed under but was able to lob the ball over the defense to Paltani for the touchdown.

The scoring concluded with the running clock in the second half. Linebacker Johnathan Heisa recovered his fourth fumble of the year to set up Hudson 19 yards from pay-dirt. With sophomore Jagger Pallay at the helm the hosts scored on the second play …an eight-yard run by Lal for the 42-0 final.

Lal had a big night with three catches for 99 yards and a score, as well as eight carries for 50 yards and another score.

Lal now has 11 touchdowns on the year.

Lightner led all rushers with 104 yards on 12 attempts and his two scores. He now 16 rushing touchdowns this year through seven games following up his 17 TD, 11-game season last year.

Paltani ran just four times for 33 yards and was 6-12 passing for 156 yards and one TD.

With limited touches due to the running clock the Explorers had season lows in plays (50), yards rushing (200) and total yards (389). The scoring average dropped to 47.7 ppg; still by far a school record.

On the other side the defense picked up its second shutout in as many outings. Bedford was limited to 119 yards of offense. They ran 24 times for just 35 yards.

“The defense was outstanding tonight, they were swarming. Just the physicality of the way guys were flying around,” Gough added. “I loved it. Giving us short fields and forcing punts. It was awesome.”

The Bearcats missed out on two scoring chances; the first came on their first play when a double-pass to a wide-open receiver was dropped.

The second chance came against Hudson’s back-ups when on a penalty aided march the visitors reached the Hudson 16. The Explorers turned back the threat stopping them on fourth down.

Special teams continued to play a big part in the win as well. Jake Vidmar was a perfect 6-6 on extra points. Kickoff specialist/punter Caleb Junko was also outstanding. His first six kickoffs sailed into the end-zone and the seventh came down just short of the goal.

“This was our first playoff win since 2016, a win over Warren Harding (24-21). It’s crazy that it’s been that long. We hadn’t done it for years but we got it done,” Gough said.