HUDSON - In a must-win game, the South Hamilton football team made a litany of must-have plays over the final three quarters and then celebrated a dramatic comeback here Friday night.
After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, the Hawks slowly chipped away until they finally took the lead for good in the final period en route to an 18-14 victory over Hudson.
South Hamilton (3-1, 1-1) knew a second consecutive loss in Class 1A District 3 would be potentially catastrophic to its playoff hopes, which is why stealing a game on the road against another playoff contender was so critical.
"It was a must win because if we lose then we're really playing catch-up," South Hamilton head coach T.J. Schaefer said. "I've just got to hand it to the boys because they played their heart out. They were extremely resilient."
Hudson (2-2, 1-1), which was coming off a 30-12 thumping of Aplington-Parkersburg a week earlier, landed a haymaker early with back-to-back touchdowns before the end of the first period.
But then the Hawks defense put the clamps on the Pirates.
SOUTH HAMILTON 18, HUDSON 14
South Hamilton0 3 3 12-18
Hudson14 0 0 0-14
HUD - Antwain Strong 26 pass from Cameron Wright (Wright kick).
HUD - Joe Hageman 1 run (Wright kick).
SH - FG Trevor Ullestad 25.
SH - FG Ullestad 35.
SH - Andy Cook 31 interception return (run failed).
SH - Ullestad 22 pass from Matt Hislop (run failed).
RUSHING - SH: Sam Waid 14-57, Devin Howard 14-24, Garrett Evans 2-15, Matt Hislop 8-(-27). HUD: Cameron Wright 10-48, Garret Schmitz 18-56, Joe Hageman 6-11.
PASSING - SH: Hislop 8-12-0 95. HUD: Wright 14-35-5 162.
RECEIVING - SH: Trevor Ullestad 3-41, Andy Cook 1-20, Waid 2-18, Howard 1-8, Zach Zoske 1-8. HUD: Antwain Strong 5-74, Ross Anderson 4-38, Dylan Hassman 4-37, Schmitz 1-13.
TACKLES (Leaders Only) - SH: Waid 8.5, Evans 6.5, Cook 6.5, Landon Quam 5.5.
Cameron Wright, Hudson's all-district quarterback, was intercepted five times and completed just 14 of 35 passes for 162 yards. South Hamilton limited the Pirates to 115 yards rushing.
Trevor Ullestad kept the Hawks in contention with a pair of field goals in the second and third quarters. He hit the upright and got the ball to fall through from 25 yards out to trim Hudson's lead to 14-3 at the half and then split the uprights from 35 yards out to make it 14-6 in the third quarter.
Ullestad also had one of the five interceptions and caught the winning 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Hislop in the final quarter.
"Trevor played lights out and it wasn't just his kicking," Schaefer said. "He played like a first-team all-district cornerback and after a while they just quit throwing to his side."
Still trailing 14-6 early in the fourth, Andy Cook instantly changed the momentum for the Hawks. As Wright attempted to throw a bubble screen, Cook stepped in front of the toss and went 31 yards the other way for a touchdown to bring South Hamilton within 14-12.
"Andy Cook made the play of the game," Schaefer said. "That changed the course of the game."
Hudson turned the ball over again on its next possession - Hawks' linebacker Sam Waid stripped the ball - and two plays later Hislop and Ullestad hooked up for the winning score.
Freshman Collin Hill - making his varsity debut in the secondary - and Hislop made late interceptions to seal the victory. Hislop's came on the final play of the game with Hudson at the Hawks' 17.
South Hamilton finished with 164 yards of offense. Hislop was a rock-solid 8 of 12 passing for 95 yards, but he was also sacked six times. Waid led the Hawks on the ground with 57 yards on 14 totes.