WOODBRIDGE—While his teammates exuberantly celebrated, Stephen Hudson calmly jogged back to the site of his last-second heroics.
The junior placekicker’s 20-yard field goal at the final gun Friday night had just given Massaponax its biggest win in recent memory, a 45–42 upset of top-seeded and previously unbeaten Freedom in a wild Region 6B semifinal game.
In the ensuing chaos, he had forgotten to pick up his kicking tee, which he’ll need as the Panthers continue their improbable playoff run. The next stop is next weekend’s regional final at Colonial Forge, which beat Massaponax 21–3 on Oct. 25.
“Every time I take a kick, I always stay calm,” said Hudson, who was carried off the field on his teammates’ shoulders after the postgame handshake line. “I always take deep breaths, because I’ve got to stay calm—even in a situation like that.
“I was [nervous], but I can’t show it. I’ve got to do it for the guy next to me.”
It took everyone and everything the Panthers (10–2) could muster to overcome the top-seeded Eagles (11–1), who were seeded third in the state by MaxPreps and who had outscored their previous opponents by a combined 589–73.
Massaponax scored on a blocked punt and and interception return, and Elijah Christopher’s 51-yard dash on a fake punt set up Hudson’s winning kick.
“Nobody believed in us at all,” said Christopher, who earlier scored on a 56-yard run during a wild second quarter that saw the teams combine for seven touchdowns in a span of 6:43. “We just came out here with our brotherhood, and that was all we needed.”
To be fair, the Panthers needed even more that that to overcome the Eagles’ explosive offense. Even without his top receiver, Umari Hatcher, Freedom quarterback Quest Powell threw five touchdown passes. Three of them went to Jason Hawkins, who also had an 81-yard touchdown run, and two went to Nijihere Johnson.
In fact, Massaponax coach Eric Ludden admitted he wondered if his defense would ever stop Freedom’s potent attack.
But the best defense is sometimes a good offense, and the Panthers matched the Eagles in explosive plays. None was bigger than Jaiven Plummer’s 80-yard sprint on the final play of the first half to send the teams into the break tied at 35.
Plummer, who had earlier scored after fielding a punt blocked by teammate Quentin Wilcox, took a pitch from quarterback Luke Morley on a reverse and raced untouched into the end zone, changing the direction of a game that had numerous momentum shifts.
“That was obviously a huge touchdown,” Massaponax coach Eric Ludden said. “Any time you can come back with no time left on the clock and go into the locker room with momentum, it’s big. It gives you a huge advantage mentally. The guys start to think, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ ”
After allowing 357 yards and five touchdowns in the first half, the Panthers then clamped down on defense after halftime, allowing just 81 total yards and one touchdown. Massaponax’s defense actually scored as many second-half points as Freedom’s offense, thanks to Mike Swain’s 7-yard third-quarter interception return after Morley’s punt pinned the Eagles back to their 3.
Massaponax’s defense also forced Freedom to turn the ball over on downs with 4:08 left in regulation. The offense then kept the ball out of Powell’s hands for the rest of the game, thanks to Christopher’s fake-punt run and a key fourth-down 24-yard pass from Morley to Plummer.
That gave Hudson his chance to shine.
“We have a bunch of confidence in him,” Christopher said. “... A short field goal like that, we know he’s going to make it. Last year’s kicker, Jonathan Kim worked with him, and he’s a hell of a kicker now.”
M—Jaiven Plummer 20-yard blocked punt return (Stephen Hudson kick).
F—Jason Hawkins 54-yard pass from Quest Powell (Markell Johnson kick),
M—Luke Morley 4-yard run (Hudson kick).
F—Hawkins 7-yard pass from Powell (Johnson kick).
F—Nijihere Johnson 67-yard pass from Powell (kick failed).
M—Elijah Christopher 56-yard run (Hudson kick).
F—Hawkins 81-yard run (Powell run).
M—Josh Hale 47-yard run (Hudson kick).
F—Hawkins 2-yard pass from Powell (M. Johnson kick).
M—Plummer 80-yard run (Hudson kick).
M—Mike Swain 7-yard interception return (Hudson kick).
F—N. Johnson 20-yard pass from Powell (M. Johnson kick).
M—Hudson 20-yard field goal.
RUSHING: Massaponax—Elijah Christopher 13–159, 1 TD; Jaiven Plummer 1–80, 1 TD; Josh Hale 6–69, 1 TD; Luke Morley 11–41, 1 TD; Jacob Romero 6–13; Derell Stokes 4–5; Mike Swain 1–3. Freedom—Jason Hawkins 9–121, 1 TD; Quest Powell 11–40; J.T. Edwards 9–34; Marvin Hicks 2–12.
PASSING: Massaponax—Morley 2–6–0, 32 yards. Freedom—Powell 13–20–1. 231 yards, 5 TDs.
RECEIVING: Massaponax—Plummer 2–32. Freedom—Jason Hawkins 7–106, 3 TDs; Nijeihere Johnson 2–87, 2 TDs; Ahmad Dunbar 2–24; Michael Alvarado 1–7; Jalen Hamlin 1–7.
Steve DeShazo: 374-5443