STOW: After three scoreless quarters, it seemed like one of those games in which the first team to score would win.
Hudson made sure that would be the case by scoring the game’s first two touchdowns within two minutes of each other en route to a 20-7 win over Stow in a battle of Northeast Ohio Conference unbeaten teams Friday night.
The name of the game was turnovers. It was the team that capitalized on them that came out on top.
Both teams came into the game undefeated at 5-0 and ranked in the top five of the OHSAA Division I Region I computer rankings.
Both teams had four turnovers, and neither capitalized on one until late in the third quarter.
That all changed when Explorers senior Ben Hart took the first play from scrimmage following an interception 52 yards for a rushing touchdown to break a 0-0 tie with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter.
“That really started things going,” Explorers coach Ron Wright said. “It energized us. I think we wore them down a little bit. If you look over on the sidelines, they don’t have as many kids as we do. They played their guts out but so did we.”
There was still more than enough time left for the Bulldogs (5-1) to come back, especially considering the equally sloppy play from the Explorers, who lost three fumbles in the game.
But on the Bulldogs’ second play from scrimmage following the touchdown, quarterback Andy Wargo threw his third interception of the game. The first two were by senior John Zuccaro.
This one was a diving, one-handed grab near the sidelines by junior defensive back Matt Rightnour.
“That was one of the best catches I’ve ever seen,” Wright said. “He went up and took it with one hand. Big-time play by a really good player.”
The interception gave the Explorers great field position on the Bulldogs’ 28, and four plays later junior Dean Miller punched in a 1-yard run that put the Explorers ahead 14-0.
The packed stadium at Ron Marhofer Auto Family Field, loud as ever for homecoming and the battle of two of the area’s best teams, took about two minutes to go from raucous to silent as the Explorers (6-0) quickly changed the tone of the game.
“It’s pretty tough,” Bulldogs coach Mark Nori said. “The seniors haven’t beat them and that hurts. You’re at home on a big night in front of a big crowd and you want to put on a show and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Both teams have mobile, dual-threat quarterbacks that account for the majority of the teams’ offenses.
Wargo threw for 111 yards and ran for 31, but it was his three interceptions to Hudson’s Mitchell Guadagni’s one interception that was the difference between the two.
“He was under pressure a lot,” Nori said. “That might have caused some of the errant throws and decisions not to go our way, but without watching film, it’s tough to say what led to those.”
Guadagni threw for 143 yards and ran for 67. Jared Ruffing led the Explorers in rushing (13 carries for 67 yards) and receiving (five catches for 63 yards).
The Explorers held the Bulldogs to just 162 yards of offense and an average of 1.9 yards per carry.
“We talked all week about how we were going to come over here to a big crowd,” Wright said. “They’re feeling good about themselves, we’re feeling good about ourselves; something had to give.”