by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Euclid -- The Hudson football team had plenty of questions as it traveled north to host Euclid for its season opener Aug. 30 at Sparky DiBiasio Stadium.
After pulling away to a 36-7 victory, thanks to three fourth-quarter scores, is it safe to say those questions have been answered?
Third-year head coach Ron Wright's coaching staff doesn't feel they have the answers yet.
But the win is certainly a step in the right direction.
"It was a nice win against a quality opponent [the Panthers finished 7-3 a year ago]," Wright said. "I think we wore them down a little bit in the second half; but we have a lot of work to do. The effort was good, but we are still evaluating where we are at talent-wise and who can help us more."
The Explorers are scheduled to host Uniontown Lake Sept. 6 at Hudson Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
"Between the first and second game is traditionally when you make some strides," Wright said. "It will be interesting to see how we come out against a quality Uniontown Lake football team. They are traditionally a tough squad and a Federal League team."
The Explorers outplayed Euclid in nearly every facet of the game.
They had a 192-93 advantage on the ground and a 164-159 edge in the air.
All-Ohio kicker Pierce Royster kept the Panthers pinned back with his booming kickoffs repeatedly finding the end zone.
But the biggest key to the win may have been the takeaway-giveaway ratio.
Hudson played turnover-free ball and took the ball away from its opponents six times (four picks and two fumble recoveries).
"You can't turn the ball over six times and win the game," Wright said. "[Hudson third-year defensive coordinator] Jeff Gough had a really good game plan."
While Wright has stated the running game this year will be by committee, the same philosophy seems to be in use on the defense as well.
"We have three returning starters [Ben Hart, John Zuccaro and Matt Rightnour]," Gough said. "We don't really have eight new starters because at every position, we were rolling in two guys.
"We have 10 defensive linemen that are playing every series. We have a lot to work on, but I think we grew up a little bit. That is a dynamic offense and for the most part, we tried to keep them contained."
It was nearly a shutout for the Explorers as Euclid's lone score came after a tipped pass went for a 64-yard gain to the Hudson 4-yard line. Three plays later, Panthers' signal caller Ryshon Johnson ran it in from three yards out. Turnovers snuffed out Euclid's only other threats on the hot August night.
Hudson drew first blood on its second possession of the game.
A 27-yard completion from Mitch Guadagni, who completed 11-of-24 passes 164 yards and two touchdowns, to Jared Ruffing (five catches for 83 yards and 10 carries for 54 more) helped set up a 26-yard Royster field goal and a 3-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
After a three and out by the Panthers, the Explorers scored quickly on a three-play, 49-yard march.
Two 23-yard plays highlighted the 57-second drive.
Guadagni (11 rushes for 51 yards) scampered for 23 on the first play, reversing direction when he has hemmed in a on keeper around left end.
Two plays later, Rightnour took a Guadagni pass over the middle the distance from 23 yards away for a 10-0 score with 9 minutes, 32 seconds left in the half.
The Panthers responded with a little luck as Johnson (8-of-19 for 159 yards and four picks) almost had his first pick of the night. But the pass tipped ahead to Taji Holden for the 64-yard gain. Johnson scored on a three-yard TD run to close the gap to 10-7.
Colton Whited returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards to set up his own touchdown catch three plays later. Whited was wide open for a 35-yard reception, but the score was nullified by a penalty. The Explorers were forced to punt.
Undaunted, Hudson got another chance when Hart stopped a Panthers' threat at the Explorers' 34 with a fumble recovery.
After the turnover, the offense went to work.
Guadagni completed a 29-yard pass to Whited (three catches for 45 yards) and then ran for 15 and 16 yards, respectively. Ruffing concluded the drive when he powered his way into the end zone for a two-yard TD run.
The kick was blocked and Whited's pick on a Johnson bomb in the final seconds kept the score 16-7 at the half.
Euclid threatened early in the second half but Whited picked off Johnson again, this time hauling in the misplaced aerial at the Hudson 6. Whited raced the length of the field only to have a penalty wipe out most of the sensational return.
The Explorers defense took over from there, holding the Panthers without a first down for more than 16 minutes and creating three more turnovers. Still the lead was just nine at 16-7 as the game headed into the fourth quarter.
On a crucial third-down play, a screen pass to Ruffing got the yardage but a block in the back took away the first down. Offensive coordinator Sean Surdy went back to the same play and this time, the blocks were clean and Ruffing raced 45 yards down the left sideline for his second score of the night. Hudson led 22-7 with 11:21 left to play.
Rightnour had a pick and Zuccaro got his ninth career interception on Euclid's next two drives.
Hart's 15-yard run on a fake punt set up Hudson's next score that finally put the game out of reach.
Two plays later, junior running back Dean Miller (11 carries for 38 yards) bounced a run over right tackle to the outside and scored from 12 yards for a 29-7 lead with 3:14 to Logan Malson pounced on an errant snap by the Panthers to set up the Explorers' final score.
Freshman Matt Restifo's first varsity carry went for 20 yards around right end for the 36-7 final.