Tigers head to state semifinals

November 17, 2010 —

By Bill Mullaly

The Hudson Tigers will be playing in the state football semifinals on Saturday against new state power Warren Michigan Collegiate (WMC). The big 21-7 victory over Mendon gave the Tigers the regional crown for the second straight year. Now, the going really gets tough as Hudson must travel on the road after three straight home games. The game against the Cougars will be played at a neutral site at Gibraltar Carlson High School. The MHSAA deemed this site as a neutral location despite Tigers fans having to travel about 90 minutes to get there. The long trip will be worth the excitement as Hudson is just one win away from going back to Ford Field.

The Tigers (12-0) will take on the Cougars (11-1) in one of two Division 7 semifinal games. Hudson will be the host team in the contest and will wear the home black uniforms. In the other semifinal game it will be Ravenna taking on Ishpeming. If Hudson and Ishpeming both win then a rematch 35 years in the waiting will finally take place. However, Hudson can not look ahead as they first must deal with the dangerous Cougars who are a charter school in Warren. This is a team in its third year of playing football but they play like seasoned veterans. “This WMC team is so fast and they have unbelievable speed,” said Tiger assistant coach Danny Rogers, who is the defensive coordinator with the tough job of slowing down these Cougars.

Hudson will play its disciplined smash-mouth football and with Danny’s D ready to take on these high-scoring Cougars it should make for some entertaining football. “We will be ready to go but this is going to be a different type of challenge for our team but one I feel we are ready for,” said Tiger head coach Chris Luma.

If Hudson wins on Saturday they will play at 10:00 on Saturday, November 27th at Ford Field in the Division 7 championship game.

Gibraltar-Carleson High School is about 17 miles north of Monroe. Take I-75 north to the Huron River Road exit at Rockwood. Follow Huron River Road east for about a mile and turn left (North) on West Jefferson. The school is about half a mile north on the left. The school is located at 30550 W. Jefferson Ave. Gibraltar, MI 48173.

* * *

The Hudson Tigers roared to their second straight regional crown in division 7 football with a superb effort on both sides of the ball. Last Friday night at legendary Thompson Field it was Hudson beating Mendon 21-7. The Hornets came in here determined to get revenge for the heart-crushing loss from one year ago but Drew Milligan and the rest of his teammates would have none of that, not on this night, and definitely not here at Thompson Field. Mendon was seeking redemption for letting a two-touchdown, fourth quarter lead slip away a year ago but this time they would have no lead and it was Hudson that had to hold onto the lead and the ball late in the game, which the Tigers did thanks to Milligan and his buddies. The win was huge for Hudson football as this was the first back-to-back district and regional championships since the new format was instituted in 1999. Never before had some of the greatest two-year stretches in Hudson Tiger football history been able to win consecutive district and regional crowns. “This was big and I used that as a point of emphasis to these boys,” said veteran Tiger head coach Chris Luma, who has been here now for 14 seasons.

“I challenged the boys to go out and get us the back-to-back regional titles and they did. This was a really big win against another very good Mendon team. We had to work so hard to get the yardage we did as Mendon does not allow much. However, we were patient and we took we would could get until we could finally break one and we did.”

Milligan is the one who finally broke the run the Tigers needed late in the game with the Mendon crowd and sideline suddenly coming to life and smelling an upset in the making. It was Milligan who set off on a 69-yard jaunt from deep in Tiger territory all the way down to the Mendon three and a half yard line. “We needed that type of run and it couldn’t have come at a better time for us,” said Luma, who has watched Milligan do that type of thing all seaoson long. Up 13-7 and needed a knockout score the Tigers went to their bench and used big, bruising fullback Grant Benschoter to pound in a touchdown against a Mendon defense that would not budge. Benschoter went two yards, then one yard and then finally he got the finishing half-yard to give Hudson the two-touchdown cushion. “It was great to get Grant in there as he has been dealing with a very sore foot the last six weeks but when we needed him on offense I knew he would respond and he got us the score,” said Luma, who is now 2-0 lifetime against Mendon. “This win is a credit to our entire team meaning offense, defense and special teams. We have such a good defense and what they did in holding down Mendon is a credit to defensive coordinator Danny Rogers. He has done a great job each week in getting those kids on that side of the ball ready to go and this defensive effort against Mendon was just another example of why we have such a special team this season.”

Well, the season is far from over and up next is Warren Michigan Collegiate, a charter school from the Detroit suburbs but they do play some good football. They will test their skills against Hudson this Saturday at 1:00 at Gibraltar Carlson High School in the division 7 semifinal final game. In the other semifinal it is Ishpeming taking on Ravenna.

Mendon game highlights

Hudson took the opening kickoff and just like last year they marched down the field but unlike last year they scored this time. They used 15 plaYS covering 80 yards to score. All of the first 14 plays were runs and the final play was a 10-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jimmy Williams to wide open tight end Matthew Smith who snared the pass for the touchdown. The drive started with a six-yard burst up the middle by fullback Dimitri Nealy. Hudson used almost eight minutes on its scoring drive to score with 4:20 left in period one. Milligan booted the point after for a quick 7-0 Hudson edge. The key play was a fourth and three at the Mendon 36-yard line and Milligan got four yards to keep the drive alive. Hudson had six first downs in the drive. Mendon had to punt to end the first quarter and Hudson almost scored again. Williams just missed a wide open Milligan out of the backfield for what would have been another score. Instead Hudson had to punt and Mendon tried a key fourth down play near mid-field and looked to have a first down but a holding penalty wiped it out and they punted. Then Hudson looked to be driving again but a fourth and two was changed to fourth and seven due to a motion penalty. Hudson had to punt and the first half ended at 7-0.

If you were a Mendon fan you had to be happy because in their first two playoff games they trailed at halftime and with savvy, wise, old sage John Schwartz as the head coach the Hornets came out and didn’t allow the other two playoff teams to score in the second half. Hudson stopped Mendon on the second half kickoff due to a hard hit by James Herron on the return. Mendon had one first down and then on a third-and-ten they tried a reverse but cornerback Camden McCaskey smelled it out and came up with a big hit. Then a lousy Mendon punt of just 12 yards gave Hudson the ball at the Mendon 45-yard line. Hudson soon faced a fourth-and-three at the Mendon 24-yard line. Luma called timeout and inserted banged up Benschoter in for the first time of the game on offense. It was a brilliant call coming out of a timeout. Putting Benschoter in motion to the left he lead the blocking to spring Miliigan for ten yards down to the 14-yard line and a key first down. Facing a third and six at the Mendon 10-yard line Williams went to the air again and found Smith in the right corner for another touchdown pass. It was a beautifully thrown ball and Smith, with his sure hands, hauled in a key scoring reception. “I said to start the year that we won’t throw much but when we do we must do it effectively and we did,” said Luma about the Tiger throwing game. “We don’t have to throw a lot but when we do they have to count for something and they did in this game.” Milligan was wide left and it was 13-0 Hudson after the ten-play, 55-yard drive with 2:55 to go in period three. Mendon then responded with a score. Facing a third-and-12 they used a 21-yard pass reception for a first down. Then another pass was good for 15 yards on a Tiger pass interference call. With a first down at the Hudson 26-yard line the Hornets used its best play of the game a nifty 21-yard shovel pass to the Tiger six-yard line. Danny’s D wanted a shutout but Mendon’s Chance Nightingale used three wildcat runs from the shot-gun formation to pound his way into the end zone scoring on the third and final run. He gained three yards, then two yards and finally the final yard. With 11:18 to play we suddenly had a ball-game again. Mendon was good on the PAT as Logan Ahrens hit another extra pointer. He was 50-50 for the year after making that one and he was 86-88 the last two years with his two misses coming last year at Hudson. On the kickoff Milligan took it back almost 55 yards down to the Mendon 40-yard line but out came a yellow hankie for holding. Now pinned down at its own 18-yard line and with Mendon poised for a defensive stop the Tigers went to work. McCaskey bolted for seven yards and then Milligan got two yards and then he got one yard for a first down. Then Milligan finally got loose much to the chagrin of the Mendon faithful who were feeling a huge momentum shift. Milligan got loose cut back and off he went sprinting down the Mendon sideline into the end zone or so it appeared. Out of nowhere came Nightingale to run him down with a diving tackle. “He caught me from somewhere and it was a heck of a tackle,” said Milligan. Now with the ball and the season on the line at the three-yard line Benschoter was reinserted to do the grunt work and he pounded his way into the end zone on three tries over the right side of the line behind Jordan Lake, Meiko McDaniel, Zach Rieger and Smith. Then Hudson resorted to some trickery with three guys spread left and then some motion and finally a flag for delay of game. Backed up to the eight-yard line the Tigers used the same trick formation and Williams found tight end Smith as he snuck the pass in there and Smith held on for the successful two-pointer. Up 21-7 with 7:33 left the Tigers needed one more stop to seal the win. Mendon got to the Hudson side of mid-field at the 38-yard line and then Nightingale went for the long ball but McCaskey made a great leaping interception to ice the game. He picked off the Mendon aerial at the Tiger 8-yard line. Hudson still had to kill the clock and did with its smash-mouth, boring, straight ahead, clock-crunching, time-consuming offense.

All on the ground the Tigers killed off the rest of the game clock. On a crucial fourth-and-one at the Hudson 40-yard line Luma went for it with Benschoter getting the first down by half the length of the football. With 3:10 left and Mendon down to one timeout the Tigers played more keep away getting one final first down to end the game.

Looking at the numbers

Mendon had just 36 yards rushing on 20 carries, while Hudson ran it 53 times for 298 yards. Milligan had 24 attempts for 187 yards, while McCaskey was good for 59 yards on 12 tries and Nealy had 46 yards on ten carries. Benschoter was just four for five yards but those were four of the biggest carries of the game and season for that matter. Hudson was three of four passing including the successful PAT and Smith had every catch for 28 yards. Williams was three of four and he would love to have the one miss back as Milligan was wide open.

Nightingale was eight of 14 for 90 yards. Hudson had 336 yards of total offense and Mendon had 126. Hudson had 18 first downs to eight for Mendon. Hudson had four flags for minus 30 yards and Mendon was hit with one flag but it was a costly holding penalty in period two. Mendon punted four times and Hudson twice. Leading the Tiger defense were McCaskey with an interception and eight tackles, while Smith had seven and both Burke Hart and Alex Leathers with six. Nathaniel Osborn and Benschoter both had five tackles. “This was a huge win against another very good, well-coached Mendon team,” said Luma. Neither team lost a fumble or fumbled at all for that matter.

Up next the Warren team

Yes, the Tigers will have to do battle against Warren Michigan Collegiate (WMC) a 34-20 winner over Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes late Saturday night. Many said Mendon was a second half team but how about WMC. They were down 12-0 to WOLOTL and still won by scoring 34 second half points. The Cougars are 11-1 with its lone loss to a tough inner-city team. The Cougars are just in their third year of high school football but they are making a lot of noise quickly. They were in the playoffs last year and fell to Petersburg-Summerfield 28-8 in round one of the playoffs. Now, they are back again this time in the semifinal and they want more. They have a potent offense with over 400 points scored in 12 games but it is their defense that has everyone talking. They have six shutouts and have allowed just 89 points. Hudson will be up against the hardest-hitting, toughest, quickest, fastest, most disciplined, best-coached and most talented team they will see all season. Can the Tigers make it back to a domed-stadium for two years in a row? Why not? Prediction: Hudson 48, WMC 29.