Explorers discover way to beat Raiders


Explorers discover way to beat Raiders

By Brian Dzenis

sports@vindy.com

TWINSBURG

Warren Harding has made offensive magic all season, but its bag of tricks came up empty Friday night.

With the Raiders down 24-21 to Hudson with 32 seconds left in the Division II, Region 5 final, quarterback Lynn Bowden faced a fourth-and-11 at the Explorers’ 20. He ran to his right, looked left and saw receiver Dakota Shelton in the left corner of the end zone. Shelton had a one-on-one matchup with Hudson’s Cole Miller. Bowden threw the ball up, but Miller won the matchup, knocking the ball away.

The score stood up and Hudson (11-2) won its third straight regional title at Twinsburg Tiger Stadium.

“They did a great job on Lynn and our skill players,” Harding coach Steve Arnold said. “You have to give them credit, it’s our lowest output of the season.”

The final play came after two consecutive timeouts by each side. Hudson, which took the latter of the two, correctly sussed out Harding’s gameplan.

“We went through exactly what to do in the time out,” Miller said. “My initial release wasn’t clean — I didn’t get a clean push on him — but I just tracked him to the back of the end zone. I saw the ball in the air and knew I had to make the play.”

Harding had a 14-3 lead at halftime, but a six-minute Hudson scoring drive and two Bowden interceptions in third quarter let the Explorers back in the game.

Turnovers aside, Bowden was still the Raiders’ most productive offensive weapon. He rushed for 190 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 162 yards and a touchdown. During Harding’s 11-2 campaign, Bowden had a season that saw him earn the title of Northeast Ohio Inland Offensive Player of the Year in Division II and a nomination for Mr. Football. Arnold was not inclined to discuss Bowden’s feats.

“He’s a great player, one of the best Warren has ever seen,” Arnold said. “I’m not going to answer that right now about Mr. Football. I’m talking about our team right now. I’m not talking about Mr. Football.”

Bowden declined to comment after the game.

Harding opened the game with some fireworks with Bowden ripping off a 72-yard touchdown run on the game’s third play.

Hudson responded with scoring drive of its own, capping it with a 20-yard field goal from emergency kicker Jonah Wieland.

Wieland is an offensive lineman for the Explorers, but assumed the kicking duties after kicker Grant Gonya suffered a broken hip in a first-round playoff game.

The initial scoring outburst wasn’t a sign of things to come. Bowden was limited to just 49 rushing yards the rest of the half. He found some success in the air. During a seven-minute scoring drive in the second quarter, Bowden put Harding near Hudson’s red zone with a 46-yard strike to Marlin Richardson. The Raiders were held to a fourth-and-2, but Bowden floated a pass to Tavon Hooks to give the Raiders a two-touchdown lead.

“The game plan was obviously to take away his running ability, which was really hard and takes all 11 guys,” Hudson coach Jeff Gough said. “So you’re really thin on the back end and they made a great adjustment to start throwing it up.”

Harding had the ball for just 1:39 in the third quarter, allowing Hudson to get rushing scores scores from quarterback Jackson Parker and Kevin Callahan to take the lead.

Harding regained the lead in the fourth quarter when Bowden and Hooks linked up on a 43-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left in the game.

Hudson — which used three quarterbacks — sent out Colton Pallay under center. Pallay led a 10-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Greg Mailey with 2:51 left to play.

That left Harding one last chance, but the Raiders ran out of tricks and their magical season came to an end.

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