By Brian Calloway / Adrian Daily Telegram Sports Editor
Dating back to its then national-record win streak in the 1970s, the Hudson High School football program has fielded numerous strong teams over the years.
Even with a rich history of success that dates back to even before the streak, not many Hudson teams have been able to complete the regular season unbeaten over the past 25 years.
The Division 7 No. 4-ranked Tigers will have an opportunity to put the finishing touches on a perfect regular season Friday when they travel to face rival Addison.
“I think they understand that it’s not something that comes around every year,” said Hudson coach Chris Luma, who earned his 100th career coaching win with the Tigers in last week’s 28-25 victory over Stockbridge. “We pointed out to them that only two teams have went 9-0 over the past decade (2001 and ‘04), and told them they could be among the elite teams to do that.”
Hudson, which captured its first Lenawee County Athletic Association title since 2004 this fall, had just three returning starters on both sides of the ball heading into the season. The new starters made their mark early, and as the wins kept coming, the confidence began to soar.
“As we kept winning, we started to see that we could play with all teams,” Hudson junior running back/defensive back Drew Milligan said. “It doesn’t matter what our size is. As long as we play our game it will be close.”
The Tigers earned a big 40-26 road win over Hillsdale in their season opener and responded two weeks later with a 30-26 LCAA win over defending league champion Onsted.
Hudson (8-0) held on for a 35-30 victory over Blissfield the next week and earned another big win last Friday when it knocked off then Division 5 No. 9-ranked Stockbridge.
“No one could foresee that we would be in this position,” Luma said. “I think the players believed and the coaches believed we had the talent to play with anyone on our schedule. Each week we built confidence and the team unity got stronger. I feel we’re a team of destiny. No one expected this to happen, but here we are.”
Senior left guard Nathan Riley agreed.
“A lot of people were doubting us because the schedule we had was difficult, especially in the beginning of the season,” Riley said. “The first four games were rough and then we had Stockbridge on top of that. I’m not going to say I doubted (that we could go 9-0), but I’m not going to say that I was over confident either.”
As with many Hudson teams, a strong rushing attack has been at center of the Tigers’ success. Five different players have more than 300 rushing yards for Hudson, which has gained a county-best 3,102 yards on the ground this season.
Chris Robbins leads the team with 845 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, while Milligan has 824 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nathan Smith (371 yards, five TDs), John Nealy (355 yards, five TDs), Grant Benschoter (334 yards, eight TDs) and Chris Dickerson (259 yards, 3 TDs) have been valuable contributors to the Tiger ground attack.
“We are getting contributions from a number of kids on offense and that just makes us harder to defend,” Luma said. “It all starts up front and you have got to have a good line blocking. Mark Luma has done a good job preparing them each week.”
The ground game helped the Tigers dominate the time of possession in a pivotal LCAA win over Blissfield. Hudson used its running backs to go 6-for-6 on fourth down, gaining a total of 65 yards on those plays.
Hudson has also scored rushing touchdowns in the final minute of two games en route to wins. Smith had the game-winning score with 50 seconds left against Onsted, while Benschoter ran for the go-ahead touchdown with 51 seconds remaining against Stockbridge last week.
While the rushing attack has played a large role in wins, the Tigers have also shown an ability to come up with timely defensive plays. Against Onsted, Smith had a late interception with 28.7 seconds remaining that sealed a 30-26 win.
“Usually we toughen up in tough situations,” Milligan said. “Our defense is pretty good in tough situations.”
With a chance to cement their place in school history and earn bragging rights over their biggest rival, Hudson wants nothing more than to complete a perfect regular season on Friday against Addison.
“They (Addison) are a great team and we have a lot of respect for them,” Riley said. “I’m not going to lie, we really want this game. I work for my dad in a lumber yard in Addison and they do a lot of talking. It (the game) means a lot. Most of us grew up together and know each other by name. It’s just a small-town rivalry.”