Friday’s matchup between 10-0 powerhouses Hudson and Reading was supposed to be a veritable clash of titans.
Instead the Tigers battered and bloodied their playoff opponent on both sides of the ball, winning 40-0 and earning their first district title since 2004.
“It’s a great accomplishment for our school and a validation of our style of football here at Hudson,” said Tigers head coach Chris Luma. “What makes this even more special is that everyone contributed to this victory. We don’t have any stars, but every player we put out there does exactly what we need him to do, and that’s what sets this group of players apart.”
The Tigers ground game chewed up a Rangers defense that had been solid all season against the run, gashing Reading for nearly seven yards a carry.
Leading the way for Hudson was Drew Milligan, who ran for 125 yards on nine carries and had a 42-yard touchdown run.
“We’re coming together at the right time, and raising our level of play every week,” Milligan said. “That’s important because we know it’s only going to get tougher from here on out.”
Quarterback Nathan Smith added seven carries for 59 yards and a touchdown, as well as going 2-for-4 passing for 48 yards.
The big star of the night, however, was Chris Robbins. The senior fullback had just seven carries for 39 yards, but three of those runs went for scores, as Robbins proved to be a red-zone nightmare for Reading.
“I have the good fortune of running behind a great offensive line,” Robbins said. “On all three of those runs it was their blocking that got me free. That’s all there is to it.”
Defensively Hudson brought their impressive size and speed to bear on a Ranger unit that had lit up the scoreboard in previous weeks.
Lineman Matt Smith led the way, racking up 11 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble. Smith was a fixture in the Ranger backfield all night.
“We work extremely well as a unit,” Smith said. “Our aggressive secondary frees us up to go after the passer, and our pass rush allows the secondary to be aggressive. We take a lot of pride in being strong on D.”
Meiko McDaniel ran back a fumble for a touchdown, and Grant Benschoter led Hudson in tackles with 12.
The Rangers were led offensively by another strong performance from senior Brian Rauth, who ran for 102 yards on 27 carries.
However, the Rangers struggled to find balance offensively, as quarterback Joe Hubbard was harassed all night by Hudson’s defensive pressure.
Hubbard was sacked five times by the Tigers and was just 4-for-15 passing with an interception as his protection often broke down around him.
The Rangers were also stymied by a myriad number of penalties that helped to keep them out of the end zone on the night.
“We were able to move the ball a little bit on the first drive, but we had a couple of penalties that killed it,” Reading head coach Rick Bailey said. “After that we fell behind 14-0, which caused our guys to press a little bit more than they should have, which resulted in more mistakes. Our team played extremely hard but we couldn’t dig out of that early hole, especially against a team as good as Hudson was tonight.”
The loss marks an end to the career of a decorated senior class for the Rangers.
“This senior class has left a mark on this program that will be felt for a long time,” Bailey said. “From eighth grade on they were 41-0 in the regular season and 45-2 overall, so they were winners on the field. More importantly, they represented Reading with class and showed our younger players the right way to play and the work ethic they need to have to be successful. They’ll be tough to replace.”
For Hudson, however, the victory marks a return to form for a team that hadn’t been living up to expectations since their regional final loss to DePorres in 2004.
“We had been extremely successful for a long time, and then we just weren’t getting it done for a few years,” Luma said. “It makes you question what you’re doing, whether you’re going about things the right way. But we stuck with the system we’ve had and our players bought in as well, and we turned ourselves back into a team the community can take pride in.”
Hudson will meet the winner of the Mendon/White Pigeon game next week on either Friday or Saturday at Hudson, with the regional title and a berth to the semifinals on the line.