Hudson football team earns rematch with Toledo Whitmer

by Frank Aceto | Associate Sports Editor Published:

Playoff football returns to Hudson High School this Saturday.

The Toledo Whitmer football team enters the Division I, Region 1 state playoffs as the 14th seed.

So it's a safe bet that third-seeded Hudson is a significant favorite to upend the Panthers.

Maybe, but Explorers' third-year head coach Ron Wright certainly won't take Whitmer lightly.

"It will be a tough game," he said. "They [the Panthers] play a pretty good schedule. Both teams have set the bar really high. Hudson and Whitmer are expected to make the playoffs every year."

The two teams will meet for the second consecutive year. The Panthers are scheduled to visit Hudson Memorial Stadium Nov. 9 at 7 p.m.

The Explorers concluded the regular season with a 9-1 record. Whitmer enters the game with a 6-4 record.

Some of the Hudson players may have revenge on their minds.

The Panthers ended the Explorers' season with a 39-28 victory in the Region 2 semifinals.

"Revenge is the word that gets thrown around," Whitmer head coach Jerry Bell said. "Last year was a hard-fought game. They [the Explorers] were one of the toughest teams we played until the state championship game."

Hudson had a 14-12 lead at halftime, but the Panthers responded with 14 unanswered points in the third quarter to take the lead for good.

The Explorers, who qualified for the playoffs for the third consecutive year, have established themselves as one of the top teams in the state the last three years.

Whitmer has been even better.

The Panthers reached the Division I state championship game in 2012 after advancing to the state semifinals the previous two years.

"They're very similar to us," Wright said. "They're a 4-2 cover 4 defense and they're multiple like we are. They have a number of good athletes. They are aggressive up front and they have big athletes on the defensive line that can move."

Hudson is led by junior quarterback Mitch Guadagni. After a breakthrough 2012 season, Guadagni has lit up the stat sheets once again.

He has completed 59.4 percent of his passes (133 of 224) for 1,815 yards and 20 touchdowns and also has rushed for a team-high 729 yards on 117 carries. Guadagni has five rushing TDs.

"We have to stop the quarterback," Bell said. "Everything runs through him."

Guadagni's favorite targets are junior wide receiver Colton Whited (47 catches for 771 yards and a team-high nine TDs) and junior running back Dean Miller (31 receptions for 445 yards and three scores).

Other offensive contributors for Hudson are junior wide receiver Reid Robinson (seven TDs), senior running back Jared Ruffing (six TDs) and senior running back Ben Hart (five TDs).

"Mitch is the guy on offense, but we try to keep it as close to 50-50 as much as possible passing and running," Wright said.

Hart, a linebacker, led the Explorers with 106 tackles. Senior defensive back John Zuccaro had a team-high seven interceptions.

Junior defensive end Grant Elffers led Hudson with six sacks and eight tackles for a loss.

"John Zuccaro has done a fabulous job," Wright said. "[Defensive coordinator] Jeff [Gough] makes the calls to John and John makes the calls to the rest of the defense. Ben makes the calls and the checks and gets guys to where they need to be."

The Explorers also feature 2012 All-Ohio senior kicker Pierce Royster.

Whitmer has thrown opposing defenses for a loop with its two sophomore quarterbacks. Sometimes, Matt Winzler is under center. Other times, Chase Bodeman takes the snaps.

The Panthers also use multiple running back. Leading the ground attack is 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior Chris Boykin.

Whitmer's defense is led by strong safety Marcus Elliot, who is expected to continue his academic and football careers at Kent State University.

The Panthers have won their last three games by a combined score of 137-68.

"We've struggled in the red zone, but we've been doing some different competition stuff," Bell said. "We have executed better lately."

Wright decided to rest some key players during his team's 37-27 victory over Twinsburg in the regular-season finale Nov. 1 at Hudson Memorial Stadium.

All of those players should be back in the lineup against Whitmer.

"We're as healthy as we've been all year," Wright said.

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