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by Rob Barrone | Correspondent
Hudson -- Heading into its clash with Suburban League National Conference rival Twinsburg Oct. 14 at Hudson Memorial Stadium, the Hudson football team was coming off its biggest win of the season.
The Explorers rallied from a 17-point deficit to defeat previously unbeaten Stow-Munroe Falls 25-24 in a National Conference showdown.
Unfortunately for Hudson, the thrill of victory turned to agony of defeat in a heartbeat.
The Explorers fell to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the National Conference after suffering a shocking 21-12 loss to Twinsburg.
Hudson, which was ranked sixth in the Division II, Region 5 computer ratings as of press time, will most likely have to win its next two regular-season games to qualify for the playoffs.
While the loss was certainly gut-wrenching, Explorers' first-year head coach Jeff Gough had nothing but praise for his opponent.
"You have to give it up to their guys," he said. [They (the Tigers] came out and were the aggressor. They play a tough schedule.
"Each week, they came out and play really hard in the first half.
"They were 14-14 against Stow [a 42-14 loss earlier in the season]. They stunned us early and in the second half, they just kept going."
Twinsburg had a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and did not relinquish its advantage the rest of the way.
Hudson got close to the end zone twice in the fourth quarter, but a stingy Tigers' defense denied the touchdown both times.
In the end, Twinsburg quarterback Jalen Tucker took a knee to run out the final seconds and secure the upset and lift his club to 2-6 overall 2-3 in the National Conference.
"We tell our guys, let's finish the game in the victory formation," Twinsburg head coach Mike Bell said. "To be able to do it against a great Hudson football team is just phenomenal. Considering the opponent over there, it's a big win for the program and for what we are trying to establish."
Those who think the Tigers pulled off a huge miracle need to look at their schedule.
Twinsburg's six losses have come to teams that are a combined 39-9 this year. They beat the lone team on their slate with a losing record thus far, North Royalton, 28-27 earlier in the season.
As for the Explorers, who are tied with Stow for second place behind Brecksville (8-0, 5-0) in the National Conference, they simply need to win. A loss to either Wadsworth in week nine or Brecksville-Broadview Heights in week 10 could mean the Hudson players could be sitting home in November.
"We have to win this week and the week after to fight for the league championship and to fight for a playoff spot," Gough said.
While the Tigers' defense held the Explorers to one touchdown and out of the end zone late, it was a combination of strong defense and third-down execution by the offense that spotted Twinsburg an early lead.
Hudson had just one snap from scrimmage in the game's first 9 minutes, 13 seconds and the Tigers converted repeatedly on third down to score twice in the opening quarter.
On the game's opening possession, Twinsburg gained just three yards on its first five first-down plays, but it came up big on third down every time. Tucker completed passes on third down and medium to long three straight times and scrambled for 15 on a third and 11.
The 14-play, 68-yard march ended with six when Cam'Ron McClain (22 carries for 54 yards) went into the end zone standing from 8 yards away.
When the Explorers jumped off-side on the extra point, Bell opted to go for the 2-point conversion. Tucker ran around the left end for an 8-0 lead with 5:51 left in the first quarter.
Twinsburg's defense got the ball back quickly with the first of its four takeaways.
A long pass on Hudson's first play from scrimmage became a battle for the ball that senior defensive back Brenden Little won. Little's nice return had Twinsburg, which did not lose the ball once the entire evening, in business again at the Explorers' 43-yard line.
Third downs were again key and the Tigers even converted on a fourth-and-5 pass completion to Jared Eaton.
Four plays later, Eaton got the ball on an end-around reverse pitch. The senior raced around right end for the 11-yard score. Hudson's Evan Westerbeck blocked the extra point but Twinsburg was on top 14-0 with 2:47 left in the first quarter.
After getting a break on a fourth-down punt by Tucker with a running-into-the-kicker call, the Tigers looked to pad their lead late in the first half.
With time winding down, a 29-yard field-goal try was blocked by Westerbeck again.
Alex Beck then scooped up the ball, but he was dragged down from behind by Nick Baker with 7 seconds left. Tucker intercepted a Hail-Mary pass into the end zone as time expired.
While Twinsburg's offense racked-up 194 yards in offense in the first half, it's defense limited the Explorers to just two first downs before the break and just 47 yards of offense.
The Tigers were ready to add to the lead early in the second half, marching into the red zone again. Hudson held on downs at its 9, keeping the deficit at two scores.
Hudson finally got on the board with 3:30 left in the third quarter, driving 91 yards.
Colt Pallay, who 14-of-23 passes for a career-high 204 yards, found Greg Mailey deep. The 57-yard bomb along the right sideline cut the deficit to 14-7. Mailey had five catches for 97 yards.
Third down again was big as the Tigers converted a third and 13 early in the drive on a pass from Tucker to Eaton (five catches for 85 yards). Later on fourth and 7, Tucker rolled right and lofted a long pass to Tre Radford for a 35-yard touchdown. Casey McCarthy booted the extra-point for a 21-7 lead with 1:08 left in the third.
Down by 14 heading into the fourth, the Explorers were ready to flip the switch again like they did a week ago, but the Tigers' defense did not give in when Hudson got close.
Behind the running of Matt Restifo (seven carries for 58 yards) and the passing of Pallay, the Explorers drove to the Twinsburg 4.
But Hudson was denied and after a penalty and settled for a 34-yard Grant Gonya field goal to make it 21-10 with 8:05 left in the game.
The Explorers drove again the next time they had the ball.
After picking up a first down at the 1, they were denied by the Twinsburg defense in four tries.
Daniel Saxon caught Tucker in the end zone for a safety two plays later with 2:07 left but the two-score lead of 21-12 was too much for Hudson to overcome.
"You have to love the fight of our guys," Gough said. "But I can't give it up enough to Twinsburg. They had a heck of a game plan and they did what they wanted to do and we didn't react."
The Explorers are scheduled to visit National Conference rival Wadsworth Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.