WGH can’t overcome Hudson as season ends

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Warren G. Harding’s Jalen Hooks makes a reception of a long Lynn Bowden pass over Hudson’s Evan Westerbeck during Friday’s Division II, Region 5 final. Hudson won, 24-21.

TWINSBURG — Hudson had an idea what was coming, but that hadn’t mattered much in a Division II, Region 5 title game against Warren G. Harding.

Facing fourth-and-11 at the Hudson 21 with no timeouts and 32 seconds to play in the game, Harding had to take a chance as it trailed by three.

That chance usually came on the legs of star quarterback Lynn Bowden, but this time was different. Bowden rolled to his right, stopped and heaved a pass to the other side of the field. The one-on-one opportunity was one where the Raiders flourished throughout the game.

This time, the Explorers were ready.

Hudson defensive back Cole Miller batted the pass away from Dakota Shelton to essentially end a wild, back-and-forth battle won by the Explorers, 24-21.

On the first series of downs WGH's QB #1 Lynn Bowden breaks through the Hudson defensive line and rushes past Hudson's #25 Stephen Bianconi and makes a long run into the end zone for a R. Michael Semple

“We had just gone through exactly what to do on the timeout,” Miller said. “I just tracked him into the back of the end zone, saw the ball in the air and knew I had to make a play.”

The Raiders (11-2) made most of the plays in those situations. Just minutes before Bowden’s final throw, Jalen Hooks gave Harding a 21-17 lead on a 43-yard bomb in which he caught a pass over a Hudson defender. The Explorers (11-2) responded.

Despite a roaring standing-room-only crowd of roughly 8,000 packed into Tiger Stadium, Hudson calmly drove 79 yards on 11 plays with 4:34 remaining. The Explorers capped the drive with a 20-yard post route from Colt Pallay to Greg Mailey.

Hudson gave Harding just 1:44 to tie or take the lead from its own 40, and the Raiders nearly did.

“(A field goal) was too far out of his range,” said Harding coach Steve Arnold of attempting a 38-yard field by kicker Dominic Vanwinkle on the Raiders’ final play. “We fell short of our goal, but I’m very proud of the kids.”

WGH's #33 Kayron Adams tries to break away from Hudson's #11 Jackson Parker during 1st half R. Michael Semple

Bowden, who could very well end up being Mr. Football after capping a spectacular senior season with 162 yards rushing and 190 passing against Hudson, made it appear as if the Raiders might roll early on.

He scored on a 72-yard run on the third play from scrimmage and then threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to a diving Hooks as Harding took a 14-3 lead going into halftime. The momentum changed quickly in the third quarter.

“They took us out of our rhythm (in the second half),” Arnold said. “They played well defensively all the way around. They did a great job on Lynn, a great job on our other skill guys. You have to give them credit. This (21 points) was our lowest output of the season.”

The Explorers started the second half with a 14-play, 71-yard drive in which Kevin Callahan scored a 1-yard TD to cut the lead to 14-10. Bowden then threw an interception on a screen pass as defensive lineman Max Kleiman sniffed out the play and snatched the ball out of the air. Jackson Parker scored on a  25-yard run on the very next play to give Hudson its first lead at 17-14 just six seconds before the third quarter ended.

While Bowden finished with 162 rushing yards, only 40 came in the second half as the Explorers bottled him up.

WGH's QB #1 Lynn Bowden follows his blocking and finds running room during 2nd Qt. action against R. Michael Semple

“The gameplan obviously was to try and take away his running ability, which is really, really hard, and it takes all 11 guys,” Hudson coach Jeff Gough said. “You’re really thin in the back end (of the defense), and they made a great adjustment to start throwing the ball up. (Hooks) came down with that ball — that was huge.

“If we don’t come back and score, that’s the play of the year for them.”

Instead, it was one of the last great moments for the best team Harding has had in more than a decade. The heartbreaking ending also marked the final high school game for Bowden, one the Mahoning Valley’s all-time great players.

He finished his senior year with more than 2,000 rushing yards (2,288) and 36 rushing TDs. He threw for 1,319 yards, 19 touchdowns and three interceptions (two against Hudson).

His accomplishments for the Raiders, who he spent two seasons with after starting at Liberty, won’t soon be forgotten.

“Great player,” said an emotional Arnold, before pausing, “one of the best Warren has seen.”

He and the rest of the Raiders didn’t go down without a fight.