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GROUND GAME HAS HUDSON SOARING

Cobras find success by running behind a big, experienced line.

Given the personnel in the backfield, it seemed only natural Hudson would air it out this season.

After all, the Cobras lost running back Noah Siegrist, a 1,400-yard rusher who is now a walk-on at UTEP. What Hudson had returning was quarterback Joey Caruso, who threw for more than 1,000 yards and led the team to the playoffs last year.

So just when it looked as if the Cobras would take their high-octane passing game to a new level, they decided to dig in their heels.

Hudson is now firmly grounded in its offensive approach. The Cobras have produced devastating results with an average of 335.8 rushing yards per game, fifth in the state according to MaxPreps.

"If you can't run the ball at the high school level you're not going to win too many games," Cobras coach Mark Kantor said.

Hudson has adopted the offensive philosophy of minimizing mistakes and taking fewer chances with the football, which has worked well considering nearly every game the first month of the season has been played in wet conditions.

But the biggest reason the Cobras have stayed with an earthbound approach has to do with what they have up front. Four offensive linemen are returning starters, including Grayson Stover, one of the top line prospects in the 2016 class.

Stover and Cameron DeWitt are each 6 feet 6 and 300 pounds. They anchor the tackle positions.

"Cameron and I are literally the big men on campus because we're like the biggest kids in the whole school," Stover said. "We stand out."

The interior linemen are Chris Campos, Drake Carson and Corey Molina. They are all unheralded players who wear turf and sweat as badges of honor. And they take joy in pounding defenses into submission. If they were allowed to call the plays, every snap would be followed by a grunting surge.

"We love to run the ball," Stover said. "I think any lineman would. We have some pretty good size on the line, and we feel teams starting to get tired and wearing down by the fourth quarter after we've been leaning on them the whole game."

Winners of two straight, the 3-1 Cobras have built momentum largely on the sturdy backs of the guys in the trenches. That clock-controlling run game will be needed in tonight's Class 5A, District 7 game against a Gulf team capable of producing big plays.

"The line play has been the difference," Kantor said. "Those guys are all pretty much in their second year together. What they were able to do from January through April and from June through August let me know this was going to be the strength of this team."

Running the ball is nothing new for Hudson. Last season, the Cobras had 2,300 yards on the ground, running about 70 percent of the time. Trouble was, the ball carriers who contributed 2,000 of those yards graduated. Billy Werner is the only returning running back who had any carries last year.

Hudson has gone to a backfield by committee with eight players having at least four carries this season. Four backs are averaging at least 6 yards per carry. Werner leads the team with 621.

Even Caruso has had his share of long gains. The quarterback has been used more in wildcat formations and has lined up as a running back. He is second on the team in rushing yards (388) and leads the Cobras with seven touchdowns.

"I knew we could run the ball, but I didn't know we would be this good at it so soon," Stover said. "There were going to be some people who doubted because we lost our top running back. But we believed in ourselves.

"Now, we have so much confidence that we just want to come out and dominate."

Contact Bob Putnam at putnam@tampabay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.

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