HUDSON — When Nathan Binder’s overtime field goal sailed through the uprights Friday night, Hudson’s sideline erupted in cheers.
After 1,050 long days and 24 lost games, Tampa Bay’s longest winless streak was over. Hudson 27, Ridgewood 24.
“Elation,” first-year coach Mark Kantor said.
“Pure joy,” senior WR/DB Owen Derksen said.
“Probably the best feeling of my life right there,” senior LB Steven Phillips said.
So when practice resumed this week, the Cobras (1-2) had to put their bliss aside and confront a new but welcome challenge: Moving on from victory.
Hudson had fallen hard before rallying from a 24-6 deficit with 11 minutes to go last week. It hadn’t savored a win since squeaking by Wiregrass Ranch 20-18 on Nov. 6, 2009.
In those 24 consecutive losses, the Cobras were outscored 893-153 and shut out 10 times. Only four games were decided by seven or fewer points, and Hudson never scored more than 21 in a contest.
“It’s demoralizing,” Derksen said.
The streak was especially rough on Hudson’s seniors. Most of them entered their final season with no varsity victories. They hadn’t been on top since a 3-5 junior varsity season when they were freshmen.
“There are moments when you just don’t want to do it anymore,” Phillips said.
But Phillips and others stuck it out, he said, because “we knew we had it in us.” Kantor helped show that after he was hired to replace Justin Fenton in the spring. Hudson’s roster expanded. Enthusiasm rose. Optimism spread.
“It’s just a learning process and a building process,” said Kantor, a former Gaither head coach.
Hudson showed Friday that the process is headed in the right direction. After falling behind 18-0, the Cobras didn’t collapse as some losing programs would. They grew angry and fought to avenge last season’s 16-10 loss on a last-minute touchdown.
“They had a little fire under their butt,” Kantor said.
And they finally started to make plays.
Hudson recovered a fumble to set up a Joey Caruso touchdown run — the team’s second of the season. Justyn Johnson broke off a 49-yard score. Jacob Heintzelman had a sack. Binder booted a field goal. C.C. Schroder snared an interception, and Derksen returned another pick for a score.
“We were mad,” said Phillips, who had 13 tackles.
The defense held Ridgewood in overtime to set up Binder’s 22-yard field goal — the first winning kick of his life — and set off a celebration that lingered long after the final whistle.
Players were giddy and giggling when Kantor brought doughnuts to Saturday morning’s film session. Binder wore a Nike shirt that read, “Scores under pressure.” Assistant coach David Broughton shaved his bushy beard to honor a motivational bet he made against his team.
Students cheered during lunch this week when Hudson projected the overtime footage in the commons, and players were still reenacting Schroder’s interception on the sidelines during a break in Tuesday’s practice.
“People come up to me I don’t even know, telling me good job,” said RB Noah Siegrist, who earned HomeTeam Hot Shot of the Week honors after rushing for 165 yards and a adding two-point conversion.
By Monday, Cobras coaches tried to turn the team’s focus to this week’s opponent, Zephyrhills (1-2). They talked after practice about staying motivated, about playing hard against a team that nearly made the postseason last fall and is tied — with Hudson, Pasco and Fivay — for first place in Class 5A, District 6. The Cobras haven’t won back-to-back games since early 2009 — the last time they made the playoffs.
A win over Ridgewood is nice, but an upset over the Bulldogs would shock the North Suncoast and start a new kind of streak.
“We want it more …” Siegrist said. “We want to show that we earned it, that we can do it again.”
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.