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Strongsville -- One game circled on the calendar?
The answer is always no.
As coaches like to say, teams have to play one game at a time.
Since the Hudson football team got moved up to the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division prior to the 2013 season, the players and coaches knew perennial state powerhouse Mentor would be on the slate.
It's finally here.
After rallying from a 10-point deficit to post a 35-17 victory over Valley Division rival Strongsville Oct. 18 on the road, the Explorers (8-0, 3-0) can turn their attention to the mighty Cardinals, who enter the game with a 7-1 record overall and a 3-0 mark in the Valley Division. The two teams are scheduled to play in Mentor Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.
"We marked it on our calendar," Hudson junior quarterback Mitch Guadagni said. "We know it's a huge game."
Guadagni completed 17 of 26 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns in the win. He also threw three interceptions.
Both the Explorers and Cardinals recently clinched playoff spots. Hudson is ranked first in the Division I, Region 1 computer ratings and Mentor is ranked fifth.
"It is a tribute to the staff and the kids that we take them one at a time," Hudson head coach Ron Wright said. "A year and a half ago, the schedule was out and it said we are going to Mentor. What an opportunity for our kids to go up to one of Northeast Ohio's bastions for great football."
The Mustangs (5-3, 1-2) turned out to be a good test for the Explorers. Strongsville, which had won three of the previous four encounters with the Explorers, took a 10-0 lead late in the first half.
But Hudson rallied to score 21 unanswered points to take control.
"This was a trap game for us," Wright said.
Despite trailing in the first half, the Explorers dominated the statistics, but the Mustangs got the points.
Strongsville got on the board early with a 19-yard field goal by Drew Sheppard. The Explorers appeared to take the lead in the second quarter on an 8-yard pass from Guadagni to Colton Whited. A penalty on the play nullified the score. Two plays later, Guadagni was picked off in the end zone by Mike Glowski.
After a three and out, Hudson got into the red zone again and Pierce Royster was called on to tie the game with a 37-yard field goal. The attempt was blocked with Glowski picking up the carom on the run. Holder John Zuccaro tracked down the Mustang junior at the Explorers' 16-yard line. Two plays later, with 2 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first half, the score was 10-0 on an 11-yard pass from Bobby Cole to Drew Robertson.
Hudson which had a 165-99 advantage in total yards in the first 24 minutes and 453-211 for the game, answered with a drive of 66 yards.
The Explorers ran four times for 21 yards and passed three times for 45 more. Guadagni hit Whited (eight catches for 102 yards) on a 13-yard fade route into the left corner of the end zone with 28 seconds left to make the score 10-7 at intermission. Royster added the first of his five point after tries.
"That was big," Wright said. "To get it into the end zone right before the half really helped us."
Guadagni, who completed his last four passes of the first half ,picked up right where he left off as his next eight attempts also found friendly hands. In his 12-of-12 run, the signal caller passed for 226 yards.
On the go-ahead drive, Guadagni completed passes for first downs on four straight plays to Whited (13 yards), Jared Ruffing (16), Whited (14) and Grant Elffers (30). From there, Ben Hart was called on to power it in from the 1 for a 14-10 lead with 5:48 left in the third quarter.
The next possession was equally impressive as Hudson marched 82 yards in four plays. Strongsville's three scores on the night came on drives totaling 75 yards (46, 16 and 13 yards, respectively).
On the first and last play of the Explorers' drive, Guadagni pump-faked and then hit Ruffing down the left sideline.
The first was good for 38 yards and the last for a 27-yard touchdown and a 21-10 lead with 1:55 to play in the third. Ruffing joined Whited in the 100-yard club with five catches for 118 yards.
Two Mustang interceptions early in the fourth quarter kept things interesting as Strongsville cut its deficit to 21-17 with 8:55 to play on a one-play, 13-yard scoring drive following the second pick.
Hudson closed out strong as the offensive line switched from pass-blocking to run blocking without a hitch. Hart and Ruffing added late running touchdowns in the final minutes from 5 and 2 yards out, respectively, for the final margin.
The offensive line comprised Dylan Carlson, Lucas Wilch, Max Orazen, Ben Adams and Matt Hutcheson. The two tight ends were Elffers and Joey Palumbo.
"We have a lot of young guys who work their tails off," Explorers' offensive line coach Anthony Carbone said.