by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Stow -- Hudson vs. Stow-Munroe Falls.
Two football teams with 5-0 records.
Something had to give on a muggy Homecoming night Oct. 4 at Bulldog Stadium in Stow.
In an age where football scores sometimes resemble basketball results, the numbers indicated this clash of unbeaten teams would be low scoring.
In the end, the Explorers made a few more plays than their talented Northeast Ohio Conference archrivals.
Hudson improved to 6-0 on the season with a 20-7 victory over the Bulldogs.
Going into this game, Stow had surrendered just 40 total points in its five wins. The Explorers allowed 41 points.
The numbers didn't lie.
With each team committing a pair of turnovers, the score was 0-0 at the half. Both defenses added two more takeaways in the second half. However, Hudson came on late scoring three times in a span of just 7 minutes, 26 seconds to retain its supremacy over its southern neighbors.
The Explorers are 6-0 for the first time since 2002 and have won their last six meetings with the Bulldogs. Hudson has won 12 of its last 13 games against Stow and has an all-time 18-11-2 record against the Bulldogs.
"I think we wore them down a little bit," third-year Hudson head coach and Stow resident Ron Wright explained. "Look at their sidelines. They don't have as many kids as we do. We are playing two platoons. They played their guts out and so did we. Our kids persevered. It was a warm night. The best thing we have done is the two platoon. We win by attrition."
To the winner went a boatload of computer points. Hudson entered week six in the second slot in Division I, Region 1 standings behind Lakewood St. Edward. Stow was fourth in the new format that has the top 16 make the playoffs.
"It's pretty big," Wright said. "We knew it; we talked about it; we didn't shy away from it. There was a ton of points to be had. Something has got to give.
"Two undefeated teams -- somebody is going to come up with a lot of points." That somebody was the Explorers, who made the playoffs in each of the third year coach's first two seasons and six times in school history.
Stow is hoping to reach the postseason for the first time since 1995. The loss hurt, but the Bulldogs are definitely still in the hunt.
"There is a lot of season left," Stow fourth-year head coach Mark Nori said. "It's a hard loss and it hurts. But the bottom line is it's one loss and we still have a lot of season left to play."
When it comes to big games, this Stow-Hudson contest was one of the biggest. Both defenses did what they do best in the first half: Keeping the opposition out of the end-zone. The Bulldogs' offense had better numbers in the first half (129 yards of offense to Hudson's 88), but the Explorers actually had the better scoring opportunities slip away.
Twice Stow moved into Hudson territory in the first half (to the 37- and 30-yard lines, respectively) and twice the Bulldogs turned it over. Explorers' defensive back John Zuccaro picked off an Andrew's pass to end the first threat and a Roman Moreno fumble recovery stopped the second threat.
Hudson let its first scoring chance get away after getting great field position on its first possession.
A high snap to Stow punter Kyle Wright, the son of Ron Wright, went past the senior. Wright tracked it down and was just able to left-foot boot it away.
The 13-yard kick gave the Explorers the ball at the Hudson 49. Four plays later an Explorer fumble was recovered by Brain Baranowski to end the threat. Hudson had a better scoring opportunity later in the half as it marched from its own 2 all the way to the Bulldogs' 11 in nine plays.
That chance ended when a trick play tailback pitch to a trailing teammate was high. Stow's Andrew Groves was credited with the recovery all the way back at the 33.
The turnover fest continued in the second half.
After a 34-yard kickoff return by the Explorers' Colton Whited to open the second half, Hudson put the ball on the ground on the first play with the Bulldogs' Ransom McPhee recovering.
After two three and outs by Stow, the Explorers were again denied the end-zone as Mitch Guadagni (11 of 14 for 143 yards) was picked off at the Stow goal line by Andrew Groves.
On a third and long, Wargo aired it out deep and was intercepted by Zuccaro (13 career picks) again. The 38-yard turnover was as good or better than a punt as Hudson took over at its own 48 with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
The Explorers then got a huge lift as senior Ben Hart (32 yards rushing in seven carries through five games) got the call on a quick hitter up the middle.
The former quarterback, who was injured much of last year, raced through a hole and was off to the races.
It was a race the 6-foot, 230-pound Hart won.
Hart (four carries for 74 yards) took it 52 yards and after a Pierce Royster kick through the uprights, Hudson led 7-0 with a minute left in the third.
"The original play call was an iso [isolation] to the right," Hart said. "Their linebacker was yelling out "Iso, iso" and he adjusted the tackle. I knew it [the running lane] would be filled and it was. When I got to the line, I looked left and there was a whole bunch of green and I just started running."
"That really kind of started things," Wright said. "It energized us. He's dangerous because he's a big athlete that can run. He had a great game."
The Explorers didn't waste any time scoring again.
The defense came up with a huge turnover just two plays later. A Wargo pass was slightly underthrown and Hudson junior Matt Rightnour made a sensational, leaping one-handed interception at the Stow 28.
"That was one of the best catches I've ever seen," Wright said. "It was a great pick, a big-time play by a really good player."
The Explorers made short work out of the short field, scoring again four plays later. Junior running back Dean Miller powered in over left tackle, avoiding a strip attempt at the ball and making a second-effort spin to break the plane and make the score 14-0 with 10:32 left in the game.
After 35 minutes of scoreless ball, 27 points were scored in the final 13 minutes. Hudson added an insurance score with 5:34 to play. Guadagni and Whited hooked up for a 40-yard bomb to start the possession and Guadagni ended it, finding junior Reid Robinson in the end zone for a 26-yard hookup and a 20-0 lead. The TD was Robinson's third of the campaign.
Stow was about to be shut out by the Explorers for the third straight year (6-0 in 2011 and 38-0 last year). The Bulldogs' last score against their rivals came in the second quarter of a 19-7 loss at Hudson in 2010.
Stow finally got on the board when Jonte Pooler blocked a punt and Groves recovered the loose ball and scampered into the end zone from 5 yards away. Garrett Rigby added the extra point to cut the Bulldogs' deficit to 20-7 with 1:53 left.
But Stow got no closer. Zuccaro recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the win.
The Explorers are scheduled to host NOC Valley Division rival Solon Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.