Hudson football pulls away from Harding to reach regional final vs. Hoban

Rob Barrone
Hudson running back Aiden Lal gets a block for center Alex Movshin during the Explorers' 35-6 win over Warren G. Harding Oct. 31 at Hudson Memorial Stadium.
Hudson's Chase Webber (19) makes a tackle during the Explorers' 35-6 win over Warren G. Harding Oct. 31.

Moments after his Hudson football team finished off its third straight home playoff win, 35-6 over Warren G. Harding (6-4) Oct. 30, head coach Jeff Gough was besieged by questerion that follow a Regional semi-final contest.

Gough, whose club outscored the Raiders 21-0 in the second half, was excited but calmly answered the bevy of questions about his team and their ninth win in as many tries.

Then the emotion came out from the 2006 Hudson grad.

“That felt good; nine and oh, man, nine and oh,” Gough said

The Explorers became only the fifth team in the 101 years of football at the school to be able to make that 9-0 claim.

With that ninth win the Explorers earned a trip (Nov. 6) to the Division II, Region 5 championship game at top seed Archbishop Hoban (8-0), who defeated Cleveland Benedictine 37-0 Oct. 30.

“I don’t know much about them other than they are really good. We have never had a chance to play them or see any film on them (yet). We are going to tell our kids; we are focused on going 1-0, focus on getting one percent better and focus on enjoying every single moment,” Gough noted. “Coach (Tim) Tyrell has a phenomenal program with phenomenal players. What an opportunity to go up against another great team.”

The Explorers players are also excited about making it to the Regional finals and they are not one bit surprised by their accomplishments.

Two of the Explorers who made their presence felt all over the field in the win over Harding teamed up to express their and their teammate’s feelings about the 9-0 start.

Junior Colin Pierce, who now has 12 career receiving touchdowns thanks to a career best two touchdown night against the Raiders, also had a big play on defense breaking up what looked like a sure Harding touchdown when Hudson was only up by a 7-3 count.

“It feels amazing. The class above me, these seniors they’ve worked so hard and they’ve set an example for the kids in my grade and the kids below us …I know this is something they have worked for,” Pierce said. “We’re not shocked; we were saying this summer that we were going to make it here …but I’m glad we executed and we got it.”

The quarterback at the other end of those two scores Jacob Paltani also ran for another touchdown and led Hudson’s ground game with 96 yards. As usual he was efficient dishing out passes completing 9-12 for 133 yards. Paltani also got a rare chance to make other contributions.

That is usually Pierce’s specialty as the edge rusher.

“I’ve never been on that team. We put it together two weeks ago or last week. I just slipped through one of those holes and blocked it. It was fun,” Paltani grinned.

Against Harding things started off badly with a fumbled handoff and two incomplete passes and the Raiders began something they would do again and again all game; march methodically downfield eking out first downs. The defense finally stiffened after 12 plays and 55 yards forcing a 30-yard Jake Daugherty field goal.

Trailing 3-0 the Explorers offense got untracked on its second touch marching 60 yards after Drew Lightner’s 30-yard kickoff return to the 40-yard line. The key play in the go-ahead drive was a 25-yard strike to Luke McLaughlin. On third and goal Aiden Lal powered up the middle from a yard out and Jake Vidmar booted through the extra point for a 7-3 lead.

The Raiders answered with another long, time consuming drive. Late in the trek Harding’s Curt Dorsey was open at the goal line on a slant over the middle but Pierce recovered just in time to break-up a sure touchdown. A few plays later on fourth and goal from the five Daugherty came on to boot a 21-yard field goal to make it 7-6.

Hudson answered quickly.

Forty-one seconds after the three-pointer the hosts (6-0 at Memorial Stadium this year) had another touchdown. Paltani took off on a keeper up the middle and was gone for a 54-yard touchdown. Vidmar kicked his 117th straight extra point (his state record is now extended to 120 and counting) to make the score 14-6.

For the third time Harding ground out another long, long drive. After 16 plays, 6:27 off the clock and 70 yards to the Hudson ten, the Raiders called on Daugherty again. This time Paltani and the “killit-skillet” team blocked the try.

With 27 seconds left and the ball at their own 25 the Explorers moved quickly downfield as Lightner had two runs totaling 42 yards. With four seconds left in the first half Caleb Junko came on to try a 50-yard field goal. His boot had plenty of leg but hit the left upright, halfway up, and bounded away.

The Raiders took the second half kickoff and marched methodically again. After 15 plays Hudson’s bend don’t break defense held and Daugherty lined up a 30-yard try. Paltani broke through to partially block the kick again.

After the second block Hudson began to pull away. Paltani ran for 16 yards on the first play and hit Cade Tonozzi for a 24-yard gain on a third and eight play.

Later, on second and goal from the nine, Paltani’s pass to Tonozzi near the right back corner of the end-zone was deflected. Behind the play Pierce dove to snag the six-pointer for a 21-6 lead.

Hudson’s defense forced the Raider’s first (and only) punt and early in the fourth quarter the offense put the final nails in the coffin.

On third and 14 Paltani spotted Pierce over the middle. The bomb found him in stride and Pierce stepped out of a shoe-string tackle attempt to go in for a 60-yard touchdown and a 28-6 score.

Pierce ended with five catches for 78 yards.

After a Raider turnover on downs Hudson added one more score. Lightner, who had 11 carries for 88 yards put up back to back runs of 13 yards each to set up Lal for his second touchdown, this one for four yards and the 35-6 final.

Harding ran 73 plays behind running back Brysen Powell’s 28 carry, 105 yard evening. The Explorers had just 41 snaps and 13:33 of the 48 minutes of possession but averaged 8.3 yards per snap.