By Laci Sutton / Managing Editor-Content
LITTLE ROCK, Ark – A deafening silence surrounded War Memorial Stadium as Hutchinson Community College football players and fans made their way out following a heartbreaking loss in the 2022 NJCAA D1 Football Championship.
Coming off the highs of an undefeated regular season and semifinal win, the Blue Dragons made the trek to Little Rock with hopes of a repeat victory against No. 3-ranked Iowa Western and to return home with another championship trophy for the second time in three seasons.
Those wishes were quickly put to the test as the Reivers opened the game with a 68-yard touchdown by freshman LJ Fitzpatrick with less two minutes off the game clock. That set the tone for Iowa Western’s 31-0 win.
Hutchinson running back Dylan Kedzior has been a force for the Blue Dragons this season, and he carried that same fighting effort into this championship game, even while struggling with just 13 rushing yards on 15 attempts..
“They had a good game plan coming up,” Kedzior said. “Maybe shocked us a little bit how quickly it started.”
After a botched snap, results in a loss of 20 yards on their first possession, the Blue Dragons punted the ball back down field to the Reivers, who wasted no time inching their way towards the end zone, resulting in the second touchdown of the game, a 3-yard run buy Jaden Koger.
Iowa Western tacked on a few extra points, sneaking in a 31-yard field goal with two minutes left in the first quarter.
The second quarter didn’t fare much better for the Blue Dragons as the usual chemistry between quarterback Dylan Laible and wide receiver Malik Benson continued to falter.
The momentum appeared to shift late in the second quarter when Iowa Western fumbled what originally looked like a touchdown, which was recovered by HutchCC’s Javar Strong for a touchback.
This recovery was followed up with a gain of 28 yards, followed by a fumble, returning possession to the Reivers.
Despite a 17-0 deficit to end to the first half, the loyal Blue Dragon fans refused to let the scoreboard discourage them from continuing to show their loud support.
The Hutchinson defense came out in the second half, seeming to show some improvement, but it was still no match for the Iowa Western offense.
“We didn’t play our best and I think that’s what’s disappointing,” HutchCC coach Drew Dallas said. “We know we can play a lot better than we did and that’s what makes this sting so much.”
Benson, a Lansing sophomore headed to Alabama, said the team continued to encourage one another in hopes that something would eventually click. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, frustrations were high.
“We tried to tell each other in the beginning that we can’t let our emotions take over. It just wasn’t our night,” Benson said.
Emotions were certainly on full display as athletes, family members, friends and fans embraced one another, sharing heartfelt moments while exiting the stadium.