High school boys soccer / Jackson 2, Hudson 1: Nemesis Polar Bears end Explorers' season

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Hudson's Quinn Groves watches a header from Jackson's Troy Atkinson during the Explorers' 2-1 home loss to Jackson Nov. 4 in a Division I regional semifinal game.
Hudson defender Zach Bleifer looks to pass the ball ahead of Jackson's Joe Bostic during the Explorers' 2-1 home loss Nov. 4 in Division I regional semifinal game.

HUDSON — Hudson and Jackson have long been among the elite boys soccer programs in Northeast Ohio.

It was little surprise when the Summit and Stark County powerhouses bumped into each other again in a Division I regional semifinal game Wednesday night at Hudson Memorial Stadium.

It was an instant classic the last time these two met in the regional semifinals, as Jackson pulled out a 3-2 in win overtime in 2016.

Unfortunately for the Explorers, another well played game yielded no better results.

Hudson (17-2) gave up multiple goals for this first time this season, and Jackson (15-3-2) weathered a big second-half push from the Explorers to score a 2-1 win.

Jackson will host Cleveland St. Ignatius in a Division I regional final at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Tears flowed in the Hudson huddle after the game, as coach Steve Knapp said goodbye to an 11-member senior class. Knapp said the loss hurt because the Explorers did everything they could in the second half.

"Sometimes, it goes that way," Knapp said. "You can create a lot of chances, but sometime they just don't go in."

Explorer captain Ben Hallis said it was hard to face the end of the run with his classmates.

"We just kept coming and coming," Hallis said. "We've been playing together for the last 10 years. The last 10 minutes were not about winning, they were about just trying to keep things going and keep the family together."

Jackson coach Mike Biros said the Explorers pushed his team hard.

"We lost a little bit when we had Eric Wilson go down before halftime," Biros said. "We wanted to just try to pull back a little and preserve what we had. They were fantastic in the midfield. We just couldn't get the ball away,"

Both teams had chances in the first 10 minutes before Hudson took the lead on a goal of the year candidate from senior Quinn Groves.

Off a free kick in the 11th minute, Groves was able to find space down the left side. He took a shot from about 25 yards out, which flew into the upper right corner of the net to make it 1-0.

"It was a really good goal," Knapp said. "Unfortunately, we didn't take any momentum forward from that. They took the momentum."

Indeed, Hudson was only ahead for four minutes before Jackson found the equalizer.

Off the throw-in from left side, Wilson sent a long throw into the box. Forward Garrett Hatterly jumped up in a crowd of players and headed it in to the net, tying it at 1-1 in the 15th minute.

Hattery gave the Polar Bears the lead in 23rd minute on a very direct goal.

Jackson's AJ Jaber sent on a long ball ahead. The ball bounced off a Hudson defender as goalie Stephen Yerian was charging off his line and Hattery booted the ball into the open net.

"He's a two-time All-Ohio player," Biros said of Hattery. "He's the kind of guy you lean on in games like this."

The Explorers looked a bit shell-shocked after the goal, but the Polar Berars had their own issues when Wilson collided with Yerian in the 26th minute and was very slow to get up.

Behind 2-1 at the half, Hudson seized the attacking initiative to start the second and never let up.

Cipriano made several brilliant stops to deny the Explorers. He finished with five saves  as Hudson finished with a 6-4 edge in shots on goal.

While Hudson was on the attack, Jackson had a golden opportunity to put the game away in the 56th minute.

Yerian grabbed Jackson's Ryan Buckler inside the box. Not only did the referee award a penalty kick, but Yerian was given a red card for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity.

That forced Hudson to play with 10 men for the rest of the game and put senior backup keeper Matt Kaminski in a tough spot. However, with Hattery taking the penalty kick, Kaminiski made the save and then smothered the rebound to keep the Explorers in the game.

"Matt came up with a huge save for us," Knapp said. "He was coming in cold. He's a great goaltender."

Despite being down a man, Hudson's attack was non-stop in the last 20 minutes.

The second half was not without controversy. Off a corner kick with under 20 minutes left, Hudson had several close shots blocked in front. At the back post, Hudson put a ball on net and then celebrated as if they had scored the tying goal, but the referees did not give the goal.

Knapp said he believed the ball had crossed the goalline before Cipriano scooped the ball away.

"Both teams came to stop," Knapp said. "Usually when that happens, it means a goal has been scored, but the referees didn't give it."

Hudson peppered Cipriano with some hard shots in the last 15 minutes, but could not find a way through a compact Polar Bear defense.

Hudson finished with a 7-1 edge in corner kicks.

Knapp said the Class of 2021 will be hard  to replace.

"They're unbelievable," Knapp said. "I had them long before they got to high school with Hudson United. They will be so missed. The underclassmen are going to have some huge shoes to fill."

"It hard to know that it's over, but I just want to make sure we left this program in a better place for guys that our coming up," Hallis said.