HUDSON: With a 6-4 record and minus the stars that propelled Toledo Whitmer to last year’s Division I state championship game, it is totally understandable that it was a different team that came into Hudson Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
It was a different Hudson team, too. And that was the story.
Led by the passing combination of juniors Mitch Guadagni and Colton Whited and a defense that played with the ferocity of a junkyard dog, Hudson dominated last year’s state runner-up 31-7 in a Division I regional quarterfinal game.
The victory accomplished two goals. It avenged a loss to Whitmer in last year’s playoffs and sends Hudson to next week’s regional semifinals against Cleveland St. Ignatius, which ended Canton McKinley’s season Saturday. The site will be determined today by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
With Guadagni and Whited catching fire in the second half and the defense playing steady from start to finish, the Explorers piled up 301 yards and held the Panthers to 94 yards. A Houdini-like 86-yard kickoff return by Marcus Elliott early in the fourth quarter was the lone blemish on the defensive ledger.
Guadagni, who has heard from schools in the Big East, Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference, hurt Whitmer with his arm and his legs. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander completed 11-of-20 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He also picked up 151 yards and scored twice on the ground in leading Hudson to its 10th victory in 11 games.
After missing connections on several deep patterns early on, Guadagni and the 6-2, 175-pound Whited, eventually hooked up six times for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
“They [Whitmer] were blitzing a lot and we had a couple of open pattern that I either overthrew or didn’t put in the right place,” Guadagni said. “But we got it going in the third quarter. Our tailback [Dean Miller] did a good job of picking up the blitzes and our offensive line did a great job, too. It was a real team win.”
The Hudson defense, led by the interior of Grant Elfers, Mike Delsanter, Steve Dine, Joe Martin, Mike Innamorato and Charles Behal, made an early statement and never backed off. It pressured Whitmer quarterback Matt Winzeler all evening, forced two turnovers and yielded just five first downs.
“The defense did a very good job,” Hudson coach Ron Wright said. “Coach Jeff Gough and his staff came up with a great defensive game plan.”
Elfers, a 6-1, 175-pound junior, forced and recovered a fumble on Whitmer’s first possession. Elfers grabbed the arm of Winzeler as he attempted a pass, and the ball squirted loose. Elfers fell on the ball at the Hudson 42-yard line and Guadagni wasted no time in getting the Explorers on top.
He took off on a quarterback draw on Hudson’s second play from scrimmage and went 54 yards untouched for a touchdown.
After kicker Pierce Royster added the extra point, he extended the lead to 10-0 with a 24-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the half. Guadagni helped set up the kick by picking up 27 yards on another quarterback draw.
Wright insisted that revenge had nothing to do with the victory.
“We don’t think that way,” he said. “We’re care more about what we do than what they do,” he said.
Whitmer used some creativity when it opened the second half by recovering an onside kick, but the Explorers’ defense never flinched and forced a punt. The offense took note and went on a 13-play, 62-yard drive that culminated with Guadagni going up the middle for the final 6 yards. The drive was aided when the Explorers drew the Panthers offside on a fourth-and-1 play at the Hudson 39.
Whited extended the lead to 24-0 when he hauled in a 21-yard strike with 10:31 to go and then put the game on ice about four minutes later when he made a nifty catch of a 25-yard strike in the front corner of the end zone.
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