In the span of 69 seconds, a close Division I, Region 1 state quarterfinal between top-seeded Hudson and fourth-seeded Mentor turned decidedly toward the Explorers.
Because of it, Hudson kept its dream season alive on Saturday with a 41-20 win at the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium, while the Cardinals bowed out in the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Up until the dreaded start of the third quarter, Mentor (11-2) was giving the Explorers (13-0) a game and walked into halftime down by 11 despite a first half that only netted the Cardinals 105 yards of offense.
But Toledo recruit Mitch Guadagni proved why the Rockets are so high on him, as the senior showed his All-Northeast Inland Offensive Player of the Year talents.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior opened the second half with a 13-yard pass to Colton Whited before handing it off for 4 yards to Dean Miller. After that, Guadagni hit Logan Thomas on a perfect 38-yard strike and within the span of 1:09 and three plays, a 17-6 ballgame was an 18-point lead for Hudson.
“We have to make some plays on that first (drive) in the second half,” Cardinals coach Steve Trivisonno said. “They’re good, but you have to get into a little bit of a battle. You’re not going to beat them with 20 points.
“They’re too good. (Guadagni) is a difference maker. You can say what you want, but you have to score points.”
The win gives Hudson its first state semifinal appearance in school history and a record for most wins in a season, as the Explorers head to a field to be determined next week against second-seeded St. Edward (11-2).
Mentor, on the other hand, bows out with another strong season, but two losses to the Explorers derailed what could have been back-to-back state final appearances.
Special teams really hurt the Cardinals in the rematch with Hudson – the Explorers beat Mentor 41-27 in Week 9 – as three plays had a direct impact on scores.
A 14-yard punt in the second quarter set up Hudson’s first score, giving the Explorers starting field position on the Cardinals 46. A 12-yard punt on the next drive made it first-and-10 Hudson on the Mentor 49 after that.
A blocked punt by Reid Robinson resulted in a 6-yard touchdown by Ben Mehelic in the third quarter, adding insult to injury as special teams took a hit in Week 13.
“It’s gotten us all year long,” Trivisonno said. “That’s the way it is. We’ve struggled a bit.”
Behind Guadagni, Hudson was a well-oiled machine as it found little resistance on a night it outgained Mentor 340-240.
Guadagni finished with 110 yards rushing and a score and added 148 yards through the air with two touchdowns against no interceptions.
He spread the ball around, hitting five receivers with Thomas the big gainer, logging two catches for 76 yards. Joe Charpentier added 73 yards on nine carries.
“(Guadagni) is definitely the best quarterback I’ve played against,” Cardinals nose guard and Bowling Green recruit Nico Lautanen said. “The Moeller quarterback (Gus Ragland) was a good quarterback, but he’s without a doubt the best I’ve played.
“(Hudson) is tricky. They have a great scheme. Their offensive coordinator is a genius. We have to tip our hats to them. They’re a great offense.”
Mentor was led by Alex Mathews, who had 66 yards rushing, while Jake Floriea added 19 yards on the ground and two scores, and Eddie Daugherty punched one in to go with 38 yards rushing. Jason Blizzard hauled in six catches for 51 yards.
The 2015 squad will be an interesting mix as 15 starters will graduate in June.
Mathews and Blizzard will be back offensively for Mentor, as will center Chase Strayer and right tackle Kevin Birchall.
Defensively, tackle Billy Hudson, strong side linebacker Kenny Cook and free safety Mike Ballentine will be back.
“Every person that comes through this program leaves a better person,” Daugherty said. “This program is indescribable. I love each and every person here, and each and every coach. I thank every one of them for what they taught me.”