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For the first half of play, Highland made Class A’s No. 1 team look vulnerable. The second half was a different story as Hudson ended Highland’s season with a 41-14 loss.
The tale of two halves came down to play in the trenches according to Highland co-head coach Joe Donovan.
“They’re awful good up front and just re-established the line the second half. I think that’s where they won the game,” Donovan said.
Strong offensive line play caused the spread-offense- based Hudson to abandon that and move to the I-formation for most of the second half. They repeatedly ran the ball and wore down Highland’s defense. Hudson running back Christian Seres ended the game with 35 carries for 259 yards and four touchdowns.
“We run a 3-5 defense and they zone block, so that’s tough to hold against for four quarters with a rushing attack like that,” Trey Lasek said. “In the second half, they kind of figured out a formula to get us and just did their thing.”
At the start of the game, momentum went the way of the Huskies after an initial three-and-out from Hudson combined with a quick score from Highland on a 71-yard touchdown run from Trey Lasek to put the Huskies up 7-0 in the first quarter.
The Huskies had a chance to go up two scores as they drove their offense to the Hudson 31 late in the first quarter, but were stopped just inches short on a fourth-and-3. Hudson scored a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to knot the game at 7-7.
Highland punted away on the next possession and Hudson started handing the ball off to Seres at every opportunity. Hudson went up 14-7 with 8:13 left in the first half.
The Huskies responded three minutes later as Lasek took a quarterback keeper around the left side and tiptoed the sideline for a 23-yard touchdown run.
“I think we were just controlling the line of scrimmage,” Donovan said. “When we were moving the ball with that I was a bit surprised because I knew they were good up front.”
On the next Pirates possession, the Huskies defense held and Cael Yeggy blocked a punt after Hudson quarterback and punter Jacob Murray got caught between deciding whether to punt or fake it. Yeggy had burst through and easily blocked it, giving Highland the ball on the Hudson 35 with 2:52 left in the half.
Highland drove down to the 3-yard line and took their final timeout of the half with 17 seconds left. A Lasek pass under duress was intercepted on second and goal. Hudson rushed the ball once more and ended the half.
While not scoring obviously hurt Highland, Donovan said he didn’t feel like that was the turning point during the game.
“We’ve been through so much adversity and have come from behind so much this year I didn’t feel like our kids were fazed by it,” he said.
On the first drive after halftime, Highland was forced to punt. The Pirates were forced to punt it back after another clutch defensive play from Yeggy. He had a sack on third and long.
After moving the ball from their own 15 to the 39, the Huskies lost the ball after a Lasek fumble. Three minutes later Seres took the ball five yards into the endzone for a score.
From then on the Highland offense struggled to find footing against a defensive line that increasingly turned up the pressure. Highland’s second half struggles led to just 29 yards of offense in the half. Hudson took a 28-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“When they punched that second one in to go up 28-14, that’s where I thought we had kind of stepped back,” Donovan said.
Being down two possessions forced Highland to pass the ball more, which ended up snowballing the game in favor of the Pirates. They added two more fourth-quarter touchdowns after two Highland turnovers in their own territory.
Highland finishes out their season with an 8-3 record and their first playoff win in more than a decade. Hudson moves on to face West Hancock in the semifinals.
Highland: 7; 7; 0; 0; 14
Hudson: 0; 14; 7; 20; 41