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CEDAR FALLS — Friday morning’s Class A state football semifinal in the UNI-Dome had more sizzle than a frying pan filled with bacon.

Flawless execution? Check. Breathtaking plays? Check. Costly mistakes? Check. Huge momentum swings? Check.

In the end, top-ranked Hudson (12-0) hung on for a 35-28 victory over No. 9 West Hancock (9-3) to earn a return trip to the Class A state championship game where the Pirates will try to take the title that narrowly eluded them a year ago.

Friday’s ride wasn’t one for a queasy stomach.

Hudson took advantage of three Eagle fumbles to bolt to a big lead. West Hancock picked itself up and fought its way back into the game, only to have the ball ripped away on a fourth-down quarterback sneak from the Hudson 4-yard line with 2 minutes, 15 seconds remaining.

“We’ve been in a few of these this year,” said Hudson coach Justin Brekke. “We just can’t ever get comfortable. I’m proud of our guys for battling it. The strip down at the 3-yard line was remarkable. That’s what it takes.”

Things couldn’t have gone much better for Hudson in the opening half.

The Pirates ran 41 offensive plays and limited the state’s top rushing offense to 18 snaps. Neither team punted until 1:51 remained before halftime. Hudson converted five of seven third-down situations, all of which required at least four yards.

The Pirates took the game’s opening possession 56 yards in six plays with Alec Staebell taking a pitch from quarterback Jacob Murray and covering the final eight yards. West Hancock fumbles on its first two possessions led to 14 more Hudson points and it was 21-0 nine minutes in.

Murray was 7 of 7 for 105 yards and TDs of 15 yards to Ethan Fulcher and 27 to Staebell before closing the opening quarter with his first incomplete pass and then an interception.

West Hancock lost another fumble that the Pirates cashed in with a dancing, 14-yard TD run by Seres to start the second quarter as the Hudson lead grew to 28-6.

The Eagles broke their second long TD run, a 70-yarder by Cole Kelly, to make it 28-14, but the Pirates came right back with a 51-yard scoring drive capped by Seres’ tackle-busting, nine-yard run to make it 35-14 at halftime.

West Hancock opened the second half with a 90-yard kickoff return score by Josef Smith. Hudson then gave up a fumble, but the Pirates’ defense got a fourth-down stop.

The Eagles came up with an even bigger defensive stand when they stopped Hudson on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Then they caught the Pirates by surprise with a 74-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Smith to get within a possession at 35-28 on the final play of the third quarter.

Hudson responded with a 46-yard pass play from Murray to Ethan Fulcher, but a West Hancock defender knocked the ball out for a fumble that the Eagles recovered at their own 10-yard line.

Seventeen plays and 89 yards later, West Hancock was at the Hudson 4 facing fourth-and-inches. Quarterback Brayden Leerar tried a sneak and appeared to have the first down before the ball was simply taken away.

“Our guys never gave up,” said West Hancock assistant coach Mark Sanger. “That first half went about as bad for us as it could have. We knew we were better than that.

“We were one play short at the end. That’s about it.”

Murray finished 16 of 19 for 228 yards passing and Seres earned 123 tough yards rushing on 28 carried to lead Hudson’s offense.

Now Hudson gets a chance to settle some unfinished business.

“Being here last year was a huge motivation for this year,” said Brekke. “Our guys told us in August their goal was to be back in the Dome. Everyone asks me, ‘Did you think you were going to be 9-0?’ I said, ‘No, but I felt good going into every Friday night.’”

The Pirates have embraced every challenge along the way.

“It means a lot,” said Seres. “If you ask me and probably everyone else on our team at the beginning of the season, no one else thought we’d be here ... maybe not even make the playoffs. But we’ve done it week after week and we knew we could win every game week by week, step by step.”

Hudson 35, W. Hancock 28

West Hancock 6 8 0 14 — 28

Hudson 21 14 0 0 — 35

Hud — Alec Staebell 8 run (Austin Appleton kick)

Hud — Ethan Fulcher 15 pass from Jacob Murray (Appleton kick)

Hud — Staebell 27 pass from Murray (Appleton kick)

WH — Smith 43 run (pass failed)

Hud — Christian Seres 14 run (Appleton kick)

WH — Cole Kelly 70 run (Smith pass from Brayden Leerar)

Hud — Seres 9 run (Appleton kick)

WH — Smith 90 kickoff return (pass failed)

WH — Smith 74 pass from Leerar (Kelly run)

TEAM STATISTICS

WH Hud

First downs 12 22

Rushes-yards 43-241 45-211

Passing yards 98 228

Comp-att-int 2-3-0 16-19-1

Return yards 0 0

Fumbles-lost 5 4 2-2

Punts-avg. 1-37.0 0-0.0

Penalties-yards 1-15 5-32

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing

WEST HANCOCK — Josef Smith 12-94, Cole Kelly 22-129, Bennett Bruns 1-2, Tate Hagen 7-17, Brayden Leerar 1-minus 1.

HUDSON — Christian Seres 28-123, Alec Staebell 4-54, Ethan Fulcher 8-46, Jacob Murray 5-minus 12.

Passing

WEST HANCOCK — Leerar 2-2-0, 98 yards, Kelly 0-1-0.

HUDSON — Murray 16-19-1, 228 yards.

Receiving

WEST HANCOCK — Caleb Eckels 1-24, Smith 1-74.

HUDSON — Trey Jochumsen 2-17, Fulcher 5-116, Staebell 5-61, Jackson Lehr, 2-26, Izik Rodriguez 1-9, Seres 1-mnus 1.

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Sports Editor

Sports Editor for The Courier

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