Hudson football coach Ron Wright entered this season with high expectations.
There were high expectations for the team and its signal caller.
Junior quarterback Mitchell Guadagni and his teammates have not disappointed as the Explorers (10-1) are set to play Cleveland St. Ignatius (7-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday in a Division I regional playoff game at Brunswick’s Judy Kirsch Field.
Hudson has one playoff win under its belt this season and is seeking four more to earn its first football state title.
The Explorers have a 19-4 record since the start of last season and a big reason why is the play of Guadagni, who in his second season as starting quarterback has continued to show progression as a passer, runner and game manager.
“We saw last year what he could do and he has taken it to the next step this year,” Wright said. “Good football players make good plays, and he has made a lot of good plays for us. He has done a great job and the expectation is he is going to get better. We expect him to lead us this week and have a good game.”
Guadagni, who is 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, has 22 passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns. He has completed 144-of-245 passes for 1,939 yards and thrown 10 interceptions. He has rushed for 880 yards on 135 carries.
“We have a great system going about how to read the defense,” Guadagni said. “The big thing a lot of times is getting a feel for the wide receivers, where they are breaking and where to throw the ball in the space. I just have to get better with that stuff and my footwork. So far, I have done pretty well.”
Wright said he heard about Guadagni, 16, when he was a youth and was impressed by how he stepped in as a starter as a sophomore following an injury.
“Last year when Ben Hart went down [in Week 1], he came in and really did a great job,” Wright said. “He took the reins over and has led us since.”
Colleges are taking notice of Guadagni’s skills. Buffalo has offered a scholarship. Bowling Green and Toledo are showing interest, and letters are coming in from Big Ten schools such as Michigan State and Penn State and from ACC schools.
Guadagni credits his teammates for helping make the transition to varsity smooth.
“Coming out of eighth grade I knew I was going to play freshman football,” Guadagni said. “When David Nelson, our quarterback back then, got hurt, they brought me up to play JV. It just went from there and I have been able to get a lot of experience. I have been grateful for that.”
Guadagni, who has a 3.4 grade-point average, took varsity snaps as a freshman against Cuyahoga Falls and Garfield Heights and mostly handed the ball off to running backs.
“From my freshman year when I got brought up after an injury to our quarterback, all the seniors just took me under their wing,” Guadagni said. “The seniors right now I have been friends with for a while. A lot of guys have been making plays. Our O-line has done a great job this year and our receivers have been getting open. Even though we are young, we are just making plays.”
Hudson’s starting offensive linemen are seniors Ben Adams and Lucas Wilch and juniors Matt Hutcheson, Dylan Carlson and Brendan Burdett. Junior Colton Whited and senior Jared Ruffing are the Explorers’ top receivers.
Hart has transitioned to a middle linebacker position and is a leader on a defense that includes senior free safety John Zuccaro, senior defensive end Mike Innamorato, junior linebacker Matt Rightnour and junior defensive end Grant Elffers.
On paper and based on history, Hudson would appear to be an underdog in this game. Since the playoff tournament started in 1972, Ignatius has won a state-record 11 state championships in 25 appearances and has a 64-13 postseason record. This is Hudson’s seventh appearance in the playoffs and the Explorers have a 5-6 record.
“It is a big ballgame,” Wright said. “At this point in time, the way I look at it is that every team is a good team. You are going to run through good people every week. It doesn’t matter who we are playing, it is going to be a good football team. To be the best in the state, you have got to beat the best in the state. Ignatius is one of the best. They always have and always will be.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.