Musolino, Struthers take care of Hubbard

Tribune Chronicle / Eric Murray

Hubbard’s Dillon O’Hara, left, and Joe Fisher warm up prior to the second half of Friday’s game against Struthers.

Tribune Chronicle / Eric Murray Hubbard’s Dillon O’Hara, left, and Joe Fisher warm up prior to the second half of Friday’s game against Struthers.

HUBBARD — In a battle of the No. 3 and No. 5-ranked teams in Division IV, Region 13, the Struthers Wildcats were able to survive a last-minute Hubbard march to beat the Eagles, 20-14, at Hubbard Memorial Stadium Friday night.

AJ Musolino sealed the Struthers win with an interception at his own 2-yard line as time expired.

Struthers, which came into the game as the third-ranked team in Region 13, has won three-straight road games, including wins over Poland and Struthers. When asked if he thought Friday’s crucial win over Hubbard was a statement win, Struthers coach Curt Kuntz replied, “No, when you beat Canfield and then Poland and go through that stretch, it’s just one game at a time,” Kuntz said.

“Another thing is, it’s our third away game, we felt like the (Cleveland) Indians just getting back from a long West Coast road trip. So, we’re excited to get home for the last two games. Playing on the road, this atmosphere, makes things a little tougher.”

On the Wildcats’ second drive, they put together an 11-play, 71-yard march that included six Regal Reese runs and ultimately resulted in a Nick Adams jet sweep for a 5-yard touchdown run. Musolino then somehow cut back to the middle of the field on the two-point conversion attempt and dove in for the score, putting Struthers ahead, 8-0.

Hubbard responded with a long drive of its own, but back-to-back incompletions from the Struthers 26 led to a turnover on downs. The Eagles then got the ball back, only to fumble at their own 38, putting the Wildcats back in business.

It only took five plays for Struthers to punch it in, as Musolino broke three tackles and powered his way into the end zone for an 11-yard score. The extra point failed, however, as the Wildcats found themselves ahead, 14-0, with 4:43 left in the first half.

In fact, 13 of Struthers’ 20 points came off of Hubbard turnovers.

“Always when you get turnovers it’s real big,” Musolino said. “The team with the most turnovers usually loses the game.”

While the Hubbard defense had trouble tackling Musolino and Reese, the Wildcat defense also had their struggles against powerful Eagle runners like Rafael Morales. Morales began to take over late in the first half, as he had 24 yards on the Eagles’ final drive before half.

Quarterback Dillon O’Hara also began to break tackles, as he had three runs in a row to cap-off a 67-yard touchdown drive with a 3-yard score with 1:34 left in the second quarter, cutting the Struthers lead in half, 14-7.

Struthers quickly came out in the second half and picked off an O’Hara pass on a tipped ball, with Robbie Best took the short return to the Hubbard 21-yard line. Another jet sweep to Adams nearly resulted in a touchdown, but Adams lost his balance after 24 yards and fell down at the Hubbard 5.

On third-and-goal, Reese punched it in from 4 yards out. The extra point was then blocked, making it a 20-7 Wildcat lead. Hubbard quickly responded with a Davion Daniels quarterback keeper down the left sideline for a 53-yard score, closing the deficit to 20-14.

The story of the game became Hubbard’s three drives in the fourth quarter. After getting to the Struthers 24-yard line late in the third quarter, the Eagles found themselves in a fourth-and-4 situation to start the fourth quarter.

O’Hara was stuffed on a designed run to put the ball back into Struthers’ hands. On their next drive, Morales continued to dominate, as he became nearly impossible to bring down, resulting in his 161-yard night.

Morales got Hubbard to the Struthers 16, facing a fourth-and-two with just over four minutes remaining. His wildcat run up the middle looked like it was going to be enough for a first down, but a couple of Struthers defenders wrapped him up one yard short of the sticks.

Hubbard got one last chance from their own 22 with 2:02 remaining and zero timeouts. Forced to try and throw the ball, O’Hara had two-straight incompletions before converting on a third-and-10 to Ray Minniti.

The Eagles (6-2) then got to the Struthers 33 with less than 30 seconds left when O’Hara heaved a pass into the end zone past the right pylon that Minniti appeared to catch. However, the officials said he was out of bounds, and three plays later on fourth-and-22 from the Struthers 46, O’Hara’s desperation throw with 10 seconds remaining was picked off by Musolino down the seam.

“(That) two-minute drive I thought we did a pretty good job of moving the chains, keeping the drive and giving ourselves a chance. We had the play in the end zone,” Hubbard coach Brian Hoffman said, smiling. “Ray caught (it)… I think they (officials) judged that he was out of bounds, I don’t know. I didn’t have a very clear look at it from where I was at.”

For Hubbard, the loss drops them to seventh in the region, while Struthers stays put in third. As for the Wildcats (7-1), the defensive play in the fourth quarter, after having some struggles in the first three quarters, ultimately netted them a big Week 8 victory.

“The guy calling the defense this year has a lot of experience here. Johnny Bayuk, he graduated from here (Hubbard), his dad (Jeff) coached here for 20 years,” Kuntz said. “I say it all the time to Jeff, ‘Johnny’s gonna be a hell of a lot better coach (than you).’ And I say that as a complement, the work he puts in. To give up 14 points to these guys is a great job by the defensive staff and Coach Bayuk.”

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