HUDSON: After losing several key position players on offense last year, Hudson coach Ron Wright knew finding help for junior quarterback Mitchell Guadagni would be the team’s biggest challenge.
Wright found some of the big-play ability he was looking for in Hudson’s 41-0 win over Cuyahoga Falls at home Friday.
Already leading 7-0 in the first quarter, senior running back Jared Ruffing reached the second level of the Black Tigers defense and threw a stiff-arm to shed a would-be tackler and broke free down the sideline for a 58-yard touchdown.
Then junior Colton Whited took over the game with three touchdowns, all more than 40 yards. He first returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown to put Hudson (5-0, 2-0 Northeast Ohio Conference) ahead 21-0. In the second quarter, he sneaked behind the Cuyahoga Falls (1-4, 0-2) secondary and hauled in a high-arching 43-yard touchdown pass from Guadagni, putting the Explorers ahead 31-0.
In the third quarter, he struck again. Guadagni hit him on a post pattern for a second receiving touchdown, this one from 42 yards, to cap Hudson’s scoring.
Whited finished with five catches for 108 yards.
“Colton’s a player,” Wright said. “We’ve known this for a while. He gets better week in and week out. We just hope he keeps the learning curve going.”
Ruffing only carried the ball one other time, but the damage was done. He’s finding a knack for the big play, as he also scored the winning 2-point conversion in a 15-14 double-overtime thriller over Brecksville-Broadview Heights two weeks ago.
“We’re rolling now,” Ruffing said. “We found our brotherhood and we found our skill players. We’ve been going at it ever since.”
Guadagni finished 12-of-17 passing for 187 yards and two touchdowns and added 16 yards and another touchdown on the ground. He left the game in the third quarter.
After losing Ben Gedeon, Tim Kennedy and company last season, Ruffing says the offense wanted to rally around Guadagni, the lone holdover in the starting lineup aside from the offensive line.
“We knew that he was gonna be our star this year, he was our Ben this year,” Ruffing said. “We had to hang around him and we knew he’d lead us.”
Wright doesn’t think the offense is quite at the level it was in 2012. But it’s getting closer.
“We’re starting to [find an identity], but we’re not there yet,” Wright said. “It’s a week-to-week thing, it really is. We’ve got a couple more learning curves to get to know where we are.”
Hudson’s defense afforded Cuyahoga Falls only 109 total yards on 48 plays from scrimmage. Senior Mike Innamorato, junior Jimmy Dorr and sophomore Roman Moreno all had sacks before the game was put out of reach, and senior Jake Brooks recovered a fumble on a muffed punt.
A key game is looming on the schedule when the Explorers travel next week to Stow to face the undefeated Bulldogs (Stow beat Shaker Heights 14-6 on Friday night). That’s when Hudson’s identity will be tested, according to Wright.
“Next week, we’ve got a Stow team that believes they’re pretty good,” he said. “It’s gonna be a good game. They’ll be undefeated, we’ll be undefeated. Something’s gonna happen.”
For Cuyahoga Falls, senior Ryan Horrigan had an interception in the first quarter and junior Dominic Polifrone had the Black Tigers’ biggest offensive play of the game, a 53-yard kick return in the third quarter.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.