By Joel Muhs
With a single play, a single second and a single tipped ball, Hutchinson Community College’s Malik Benson grabbed not only momentum, but also the HutchCC all-time single-season reception yards record by hauling in 56-yard Hail Mary on the final play of the first half Saturday in the Blue Dragon’s 66-34 victory over Hinds Community College in the Salt City Bowl.
The Hail Mary grab was Benson’s second touchdown grab of the game, to go along with seven total catches for 198 yards. Bensons’s efforts won him the Salt City Bowl offensive most valuable player.
The catch also gave Benson 1,229 receiving yards on the season, which is a HutchCC record and one that stood since 1970.
“Man, it feels great, but I really couldn’t do it without my coaches and teammates,” Benson said on owning the single season receiving yards record. “Without them, they really push me to strive to do that every day and to be one percent better.”
Defense appeared to be optional by both teams in the first 16 minutes, as the score was knotted up at 28-28 with 14 minutes, 46 seconds left in the second quarter, but the Blue Dragons allowed six points from that point forward, while adding another 38 points on offense in the lopsided win.
“You get lucky and you laugh a little bit because it just happened,” HutchCC coach Drew Dallas said about the Hail Mary touchdown. “You gotta get lucky in this game every once in a while. Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity and we prepare that play and run it every week multiple times. Our guys are probably tired of running it because we don’t ever use it.”
Once the Hail Mary toss reached the end zone, and before Benson came down with the catch, the ball was tipped by fellow HutchCC wide receiver Cortez Braham, which Benson told him to do as the pass came in.
“Basically, we called it the Hail Mary, and I told my coach let me be on that side,” Benson said. “I just told Cortez to tip it, and he tipped it so I could get it.”
The win was over the No. 8 ranked Hinds, which gives the Blue Dragons four wins over ranked opponents on the season. After a lackluster start to the season saw HutchCC stumble to a 3-2 record, the Blue Dragons rebounded by winning their final six games, which included a conference championship game and Salt City Bowl title.
“I’m just happy for our guys that they get to finish with a win and a good taste in their mouth,” Dallas said on the midseason turnaround. “They had one more opportunity together and this is a special group of young men that come to work every day, even when times were hard. That was a tough season to go through after a spring season, when you accomplish everything you want to accomplish and then things don’t happen for you right off the bat the way you want them to. How we responded and how our guys continued to work, it’s just great to end it the way that we did.”
After finishing the season with six straight wins while outscoring their opponents 303-77 during that streak, HutchCC came in at No. 5 in the last NJCAA rankings that left the Blue Dragons as the first team out in the four-team national playoff. The exclusion kept HutchCC from competing for its second straight national title, but Benson said he believes more championship rings are in the Blue Dragons future after their statement win against Hinds.
“We definitely made a statement, but we’re gonna get that natty next year,” Benson said.