by Rob Barrone
Hudson -- Jumping out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter, the Hudson football team was feeling pretty good about its chances in its first-ever meeting with perennial state powerhouse Canton McKinley Sept. 9 at Hudson Memorial Stadium.
Things quickly changed as the Bulldogs ran off 31 staight points.
Although the Explorers fought back, McKinley ran away to a 51-24 victory with three fourth-quarter scores.
With the win, the Bulldogs improved to 2-1. Hudson fell to 2-1 in 2016.
"That felt like a playoff atmosphere," Explorers head coach Jeff Gough said. "That's a very talented football team. Give it up to their players. They were down 16-0 early and they did not quit at all. I definitely want to tip my hat to them. That's a fantastic football team."
All told, the Bulldogs amassed 575 yards in total offense with seniors Dominique Robinson and De'Shawn White leading the way.
Robinson, McKinley's starting quarterback who recently made a verbal commitment to play football at Miami (Oxford) University, led all rushers with 130 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.
He also completed 10-of-22 passes for 250 yards and three scores -- all to White. The 5-10, 146-pound White caught five passes for 182 yards and added 95 yards in punt returns.
While the final score and gaudy offensive stats indicate a blowout, the game was close until the Bulldogs ran roughshod over Hudson in the final quarter.
The Bulldogs ran for 179 yards in the fourth quarter on 10 rushes to pull away.
Despite giving up 31 straight points in the second and third quarters, the Explorers made things interesting with a 56-yard scoring march that was set up by a 40-yard kickoff return by Sam Wright.
Two McKinley penalties aided the march that seemed to stall at the Bulldogs' 25-yard line. Facing a fourth and 7 from there, Hudson opted to go for it all.
On the final play of the third quarter, senior signal caller Jackson Parker (10-of-18 for 116 yards and two scores) launched a perfect strike to Colin Paltani in the back left corner of the end zone.
The catch was Paltani's first of the year. The Explorers didn't listen to conventional wisdom, opting to go for two despite the 31-22 score.
The move paid off.
On a misdirection play, Parker hit a wide-open Paltani on the right side of the end zone and Hudson was down just seven (31-24) heading into the fourth quarter.
"We can't sit there and play it safe," Gough said. "That's the message we are trying to get across to the kids. We are going to stand up and take chances."
"I love the effort to fight back. We could have kicked a field goal on fourth and seven. Coach [Shawn] Surdy drew up a great play. Now you've got the momentum. You've got to be an aggressor against a talented team like this."
With the momentum in their favor, the Explorers' defense forced a three and out. After blocking a punt for the game's first score, Hudson went for the block again but did not get it.
A penalty gave the Explorers a second chance as they gave back possession near their own 45 to force another punt. The move turned into disaster when the punt was muffed with the Bulldogs' recovering. Two plays later, McKinley scored and the rout was on.
"That was one of those momentum plays," Gough said. "I knew when we didn't take the ball that this was either going to be a big play for us or a big play for them. Unfortunately, we muffed the punt and it was a big play for them.
"The same play that happened in the first quarter when we blocked it for a touchdown, we turned into a turnover. That's just how fickle the game is."
Going for the block is part of how Hudson jumped out to that early 16-0 advantage.
On the evening's first possession, the Bulldogs faced a fourth and 11 near midfield and sent out Isaiah Hunter to boot it away.
The block was on and junior Daniel Saxon came through for the clean block. The ball bounced backwards and toward the Explorers' sideline.
Dawson Wervey scooped up the loose pigskin at the 12 and went in for his first career touchdown. Grant Gonya's extra-point kick was true for a 7-0 lead.
McKinley opted not to punt on its next possession, gambling on fourth and 6. The Bulldogs picked up five, turning the ball over on downs. Hudson's offense had the ball for the first time at its own 27.
The Explorers made short work of the long field.
On the fourth play, Parker let it rip against the wind. His bomb toward the right sideline and cut through the wind, traveling some 55 yards in the air.
At the other end was wideout Greg Mailey. The junior caught it in stride near the 10 and went in for his second TD of the season. The 61-yard strike gave Hudson a 14-0 lead at the 6-minute, 14-second mark of the first quarter. Mailey ended the night with three catches for 72 yards.
After an exchange of turnovers (a fumble recovery from the Explorers' Sean Weigel and an interception by the Bulldogs) McKinley was backed up to its own 7.
Three plays later, led by the rush of Alex Beck and Saxon, Hudson tacked on two more points as Robinson stepped on the end line at the back of the end zone for a safety. That made it 16-0 with 2:37 left in the opening quarter.
As dominant as the Explorers were in the opening minutes, things reversed completely for the next two quarters.
After a 35-yard field goal by the Bulldogs' Sam Snyder cut the gap to 16-3; Robinson and White connected for a 63-yard bomb to make the score 16-10.
McKinley took the lead for good on its next touch.
Robinson broke off a 40-yard TD run and Snyder's kick made the score 17-16 with 3:20 left in the first half.
White was the recipient of another Robinson scoring pass midway through the third quarter.
On third and goal from the 30, Robinson's pass looked like it could be intercepted, but White went over the top for a great catch in the end zone and a 24-16 lead.
On their next possession, Robinson and White hooked up again over the middle. White slipped a tackle and was off to the races for a 65-yard score and a 31-16 advantage (2:38 to play in the third).
"This is just one step in that journey," Gough said. "You have to think about this loss and when you wake up [the next day], we have to have all of our efforts thinking about how do we improve and turn our sights to Nordonia.
"We are entering league play, so we are excited about that. I just heard coach Surdy say we came out of our independents 2-1 so we won our independents and now it's time to go into our league schedule."
The Explorers turned the ball over five times and had trouble running the ball.
Wervey had four carries in the final minutes to end as Hudson's leading rusher with 33 yards on five attempts.
The Explorers were penalized 10 times for 80 yards and the Bulldogs picked up 12 flags for 110 yards.
Hudson is scheduled to make its 2016 Suburban League National Conference debut against Nordonia Sept. 16 at Boliantz Stadium in Macedonia. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.