by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Hudson -- Two teams, two agendas, but winning was still the ultimate goal.
It was the final week of the high school football regular season as Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division rivals Hudson and Twinsburg met for the 61st time on the football field.
In the end, both teams fulfilled a major part of their game plans.
But the Explorers managed to accomplish the primary goal both teams sought: Victory.
Hudson earned a 37-27 victory over the Tigers Nov. 1 at Hudson Memorial Stadium.
With the win, the Explorers ended the regular season with a 9-1 record. They finished in second place in the Valley Division with a 4-1 record.
Mentor, which earned a 38-14 win over Hudson the previous week, won the division with a 5-0 record after posting a convincing 45-19 win over Strongsville.
The Cardinals also surpassed the Explorers in the Division I, Region 1 computer ratings. Mentor finished as the No. 2 seed and the Explorers got the third seed.
Hudson is scheduled to host 14th-seeded Toledo Whitmer (6-4) in the opening round of the Division I playoffs Nov. 9 at 7 p.m.
The Explorers reached the postseason for the third consecutive year.
"Now the new year starts," Hudson third-year head coach Ron Wright said. "Nine and one is a heck of a year. If you had said that we would be 9-1 at the beginning, there is just no way I would have thought that.
"But this team has gotten better every week and they believe in themselves."
The Explorers own a 33-22-6 record against their neighbors to the north. While Twinsburg was on the wrong end of the scoreboard, the Tigers certainly put up a fight on Hudson's Senior Day.
The Explorers had some missing pieces against Twinsburg.
Jared Ruffing (ankle), Colton Whited (hip) and Pierce Royster (toe) did not play because of injuries.
"We hope that Jared Ruffing will be back next week and Colton Whited could have played, but we wanted to give him another week to heal," Wright said.
The Tigers (2-8, 0-5), on the other hand, were hoping to pull off the upset.
Twinsburg rallied with 20 unanswered points with 4 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the game. The Tigers' run forced Wright to send his starters back on the field.
While the Explorers struggled to close out the win, Hudson's backups had big nights.
Whited (771 yards receiving on 47 catches) and Ruffing (31 for 445) were Hudson junior quarterback Mitch Guadagni's favorite receivers coming into the game.
Reid Robinson, who entered the game with 12 receptions for 158 yards, had a monster night.
The junior wide receiver had five catches for 65 yards and four touchdowns as the passing game didn't miss a beat with the top two receivers out of the lineup.
With Royster, an All-Ohio kicker last season, in street clothes, backup Tom Bevan also had a big night.
The junior punter, who booted two beauties of 55 and 56 yards, respectively, converted all five of his point after tries. He also got good distance on his kickoffs and added a blocked punt for a safety to his night's work.
"Tom Bevan did a real nice job," Wright said. "Give [kicking coach] Kyle Wasserman credit for spending time with Tom to get him ready.
"What a great night by Reid Robinson. He stepped up. He works hard. I'm very happy for him."
The Explorers struck first on their first touch, driving 60 yards in eight plays. Junior tailback Dean Miller (a career-high 91 yards on 18 carries) opened the march with a 21-yard run and Guadagni (six rushes for 67 yards) capped off the possession on a 4-yard keeper over left tackle. Bevan's first extra-point made it 7-0 early.
An interception by Hudson defensive back Ben Mehelic went for naught, but Bevan's 56-yard punt pinned Twinsburg back at the 5-yard line.
Four plays later, Bevan got to the Tigers' punt and the ball went out of the back of the end zone for a safety and a 9-0 lead for the Explorers.
Hudson's dominance continued.
After the ensuing Twinsburg kickoff from the 20, the Explorers traversed the short field quickly and freshman Matt Restifo, who had one catch in his first nine game, dragged a defender to the goal line during a 19-yard reception. Restifo led Hudson's receiving corps with seven catches for 84 yards.
At the end of the play, the ball popped out, hit the ground and then bounced into the waiting arms of Robinson for his first score of the night and fourth of the season. Hudson led 16-0 with 8 seconds left in the first quarter.
"The ball was ripped out and I was just there to catch it," Robinson said.
Held without a first down in the first quarter, the Tigers fought back.
A 12-play, 75-yard scoring march ensued.
Senior quarterback Mike Peelman (78 yards rushing on 16 carries), scrambled five yards for the score. Jake Krieger's extra point closed the gap to 16-7.
A fumble recovery by Jacob Turay gave Twinsburg a chance to close the deficit, but the Explorers' Jimmy Dorr recovered another loose pigskin six plays later to set up Hudson's next score.
The Explorers traveled the 69-yard field in just four plays. Robinson capped the drive, hauling in a Guadagni pass at the 2.
A stutter step forced a missed tackle and Robinson glided in for his second score to give Hudson a 23-7 advantage at the half.
The Explorers increased their lead to 30-7 with a six-play, 53-yard march after the second-half kickoff.
Restifo's 31-yard kick return and 30-yard reception on the second play helped set up Robinson for his third score.
The 20-yard TD reception by Robinson signaled the (temporary) end of the night for some of Hudson's starters.
The Tigers countered with an impressive 13-play trek that covered 73 yards. Peelman (14 of 30 for 185 yards) ran or passed for all but 10 of those yards.
The drive was culminated with a nine-yard strike to senior captain Tailin Johnson (six catches, 130 yards and two scores) that cut the Explorers' lead to 30-14 with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter.
Hudson senior co-captain Ben Hart ended Twinsburg's next threat with an interception at the Explorers' 40.
Six plays later, Turay picked off a pass and returned it 60 yards for a score.
The Tigers did not capitalize on the 2-point conversion and Hudson's advantage was 30-20 with 9:29 to play.
After the Explorers went three and out and then were called for a penalty on the punt, Twinsburg had a golden opportunity to close the gap.
Taking over at Hudson's 35, Twinsburg was stopped by senior John Zuccaro's 15th career interception. Undaunted, the Tigers got the ball back four plays later and took just one play to strike.
A screen pass over the middle to Johnson turned into a 79-yard jaunt for the 6-foot-1 wideout. The long touchdown made the score 30-27 with 4:24 left in the game.
Miller recovered the ensuing onside kick and Guadagni returned to try to ice the win.
Twinsburg made him work, though.
The Tigers sacked Guadagni on first down and forced an incompletion on the next play.
With a huge third and 13, Guadagni scrambled around left end for a 21-yard gain.
On the next two plays, Mike Innamorato raced for gains of 22 and 11 yards, respectively.
The drive ended when Guadagni rolled right and spotted Robinson from six yards away and a 37-27 edge.
Braden Doerr closed the door for the Explorers when he recovered a fumble in the final minutes.
"Their kids never stopped," Wright said of Twinsburg's players. "They played hard and caused us some issues."
Guadagni completed 15 of 19 passes for 188 yards.