Hudson Raiders: A football season to remember
The Raider football team finally hosted its end-of-year banquet Monday night at Kilkarney Hills Golf Club, nearly a month after it was originally planned.
It's safe to say it was worth the wait.
The Raiders put together the longest, most successful season in team history this year, compiling a perfect 8-0 regular season, winning their first outright Big Rivers Conference title, and advancing to the WIAA state semifinals for the first time ever before finishing with an overall record of 11-1.
Now that it's in the books, it's time to reflect on just how special a season it was.
"I don't think anyone outside of Hudson thought that we could accomplish what we did this season," head coach Adam Kowles said. "It wasn't easy, and I think if you asked the players, they would say it was a grind. The coaching staff asked a lot from the players and they always responded. But these guys proved that anything is possible through hard work. People working together, believing in each other, and having a relentless attitude can accomplish great things."
Those things started in the very first game of the season when the Raiders knocked off defending state champion Kenosha Bradford, 28-7. It continued with a grueling 10-point win at Rice Lake in the BRC opener before things really took off.
The Raiders went on to win their final six BRC games by an average score of 42-9, including defeating River Falls, 42-7 to retain possession of the Little Brown Jug and beating previously undefeated Menomonie, 34-7, on the road to clinch the BRC title.
They opened the playoffs with a 31-0 thrashing of Eau Claire Memorial before beating highly-touted Bay Port, 46-14, in a game the WIAA decided to move to a neutral field in Chippewa Falls despite Hudson holding the higher seed.
The playoff run continued with a 40-21 victory over previously unbeaten Appleton North before ending with a hard-fought 43-20 loss to top-ranked Arrowhead in the state semifinals in a game the Raider trailed by just nine, 29-20, at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Arrowhead went on to defeat Sun Prairie in the state championship game, 35-14, after taking a 35-0 halftime lead and playing with a running clock for most of the second half.
Kowles said the team benefitted from tremendous community support all season long.
"We definitely had an advantage when we played at Newton Field, but I also think we had a home-field advantage every game we played because of the way our fans supported the team," he said. "I can't say enough how impressed I was by our student section and fan support, even on the road. It was phenomenal to see the community rally around the team."
At the end of the season, a staggering 18 Raider players were named to the All-BRC team. Quarterback Michael Hommes earned the BRC Offensive Player of the Year award and defensive tackle Alex Burgess got the Defensive Player of the Year nod while Kowles was named both the BRC and WFCA District VII Coach of the Year, an award he shared with his coaching staff.
"These guys put in so many hours of preparation, not only during the fall, but in the offseason as well," he said about his assistants. "Even toward the end of the season, we were trying to get better at the little things and the fundamentals."
Kowles said his players shared that desire to keep improving, and worked hard to make it happen.
"One thing about this group is they came to work every day," he said. "We didn't have big, long-term goals for the season. Instead, we just had a goal that we were going to improve each day that we had the opportunity to be on the field."
At the Raider team banquet this past Monday night, Hommes was named the team's MVP in voting by his teammates while Burgess was voted Defensive Player of the Year.
Halfback Dan Loughney, who led the Raiders in rushing with 1,185 yards and scored a conference-high 22 touchdowns despite missing the first two games of the season with a foot injury, was named the Raiders' Offensive Player of the Year, while Hommes, kicker Sam Somerville and return man Dan Kelly shared Special Teams Player of the Year honors.
Bryan Caffin received the Offensive Lineman of the Year award while Burgess was named Defensive Lineman of the Year.
The Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year award was shared by Ian Zastrow, Mitch Tulgren and Andy Johnson, while the Defensive Scout Player of the Year was Thor Hansen.
Dillon Magadanz and Hayden Talbert shared the "One Play at a Time" award.
Kowles said this year's success was truly a reflection of a team effort.
"When you have a group of players who are willing to put in the extra work like these guys did, things can really get done," he said. "This was a team in every sense of the word, and that is the only way it can work.
"The leadership that we had on this team was outstanding," he added. "The seniors really paved the way and we had tremendous leadership from the juniors as well."
Kowles credited his former Raider players with laying the foundation for this year's success, and said this year's group has helped raise the bar even higher.
"Many former players stopped by and came to games this season, and they were all so excited by the success of this year's team," he said. "That shows that there really is a Raider Football family, where each group lays the foundation in the hopes that future teams can be even better than they were. I think this group is no different."