MASSILLON, Ohio – Hudson coach Jeff Gough and his team lined up to shake hands with Massillon Perry as the clock wound down.
The Explorers had just lost, 37-27, to the host Panthers Friday in a Division II regional quarterfinal. After the teams shook hands, Gough gave hugs to several of his players. In the postgame huddle, he talked of how hard they had played.
It was the program’s first playoff appearance since 2017, and he knew how far this year’s team had come.
“This is a team that, I’m not afraid to say it, they won one game, two games maybe in middle school,” Gough said. “And then to be out here and competing against a team like this that’s been to the state championship twice in the last four years, that tells you the kind of character this team has, these seniors have, the leadership they have.”
The Explorers went 3-7 last season and finished this season at 7-4. It was their best finish since 2017, when they made the playoffs with the same record.
Along with a playoff appearance this season, the Explorers also won a share of the Suburban League National division title.
The Explorers’ offense was led by junior QB Jacob Paltani, who finished with a rushing touchdown and a TD pass to Luke McLaughlin. Hudson executed fairly well on offense, especially when it needed a score in the final quarter to give itself a chance at the win. Paltani rushed for a touchdown to cut the lead to 37-27. The Panthers recovered Hudson’s onside kick, though, and ran out the clock.
Hudson has a solid running game, and its offense is fast-paced. The Explorers were prepared for a tough game against the Panthers’ dogged, persistent rushing attack.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight coming into this game,” Paltani said. “We had our game plan, we knew what we were going to do, we just had to execute it and we’d be all good. But, you know, it sucks.”
Gough said it was hard to replicate in practice the strength of the Panthers’ run game, which was led by senior Dion Cundiff and junior Joshua Lemon. Cundiff ran for one touchdown, and Lemon finished with two rushing touchdowns and a receiving score.
“I think we hung in there the first half,” Gough said. “They made some nice adjustments, and we were playing this cat and mouse game. And we didn’t help ourselves with field position either.”
The Panthers will play the Massillon Washington Tigers on Nov. 15 in a Division II regional semifinal at a site yet to be determined.