State champs!

December 1, 2010

By Bill Mullaly

When Tiger senior two-way standout Grant Benschoter secured the ball in his arms on the floor of Ford Field at around 12:28 on Saturday afternoon the Hudson Tigers had a hold on the state championship they had so long coveted. With two snaps of the ball and taking of a knee by Tiger quarterback Jimmy Williams the year-long wait to return to Ford Field and get some redemption was over. This time the Tigers came out the winners and that meant they were state champions with a 28-26 triumph over a gutsy and hardy bunch from the Upper Peninsula in the Ishpeming Hematites. “This is such a gratifying win for our team, our town and our county,” said Tiger head coach Chris Luma. “This was the way a championship game should be decided and we played like champions this time. It was a whole lot more fun than last year.”

The manner in the way the Tigers won had everyone talking. Hudson went to the air passing like it had not done all season and with success that could not have been predicted. Williams hit seven of nine passes for 122 yards. Then the final score came on a trick halfback pass by Drew Milligan to Matthew Smith for a 16-yard score. Hudson ended with 138 yards passing and only 130 rushing, When was the last time Hudson won gaining more yards passing then running? A good question but the answer was an aerial attack that led to a state championship win!

“We went in planning to run the ball but they were very physical and we had to go to our play-action passing game and it worked,” said Luma, who admitted he went in figuring to win or lose with the running game. “I am glad that I wasn’t too stubborn to go to the passing game. Jimmy made some great throws and we had some great catches.”

The Tigers using a passing attack to win the game was the story of the Thanksgiving weekend and it had a happy ending.

Hudson had been to three previous state final games and each time came up short but not in 2010 as Hudson claimed its first-ever MHSAA title in school history. Also, the win by Hudson was the first-ever win of a state football title by a Lenawee County team. Including Hudson it had been eight trips by five different county teams but nobody had secured the much-anticipated state football championship. Trip number nine would see Hudson do the county proud.

For many the victory over Ishpeming was a win of significance on several fronts. For the current team it was the wonderful capping off of a perfect and unprecedented 14-0 season. For current and recent Tiger fans of this decade who watched the team fall last year or in 2003 it was the third time being the charm for Hudson and Coach Luma who had been here before with not much success. Then there were the others who were living in the past wanting revenge against Ishpeming for a win 35 years ago over the Tigers to snap a then national record of 72 straight wins. Whatever the reason or the cause for orange and black clad fans the victory set off a celebration in downtown Hudson that was comparable to the fun and festive mood after Hudson set the national record 35 years ago. The team bus was stopped in downtown Hudson on late Saturday afternoon as the conquering heroes returned to town around 5:30 for the victory celebration. Hudson had avenged not only last year’s beating by Traverse City St. Francis 42-8 but they also got some revenge for the 38-22 loss to Ishpeming back in 1975.

The excitement of the crowd greeting the players was all about this year and what this present team had acccomplished. A remarkable run to the state title that amazingly saw Hudson trail just twice in a game all season long. Down 7-6 at halftime against Onsted and down 6-0 early in period two to Ishpeming. Other than those two brief moments the Tigers were dominant all-season long. They never came close to losing all year and the narrow two-point cliffhanger against Ishpeming was the closest the Tigers came to falling. In the end the Tigers came through and it was a total team effort.

Whether is was Matthew Smith forcing a fumble, Jimmy Williams hitting a key pass to Smith, Drew Milligan kicking extra points, Grant Benschoter gaining the tough yard, or Devan Marry laying a hard hit down it was all the players doing the little things that added up to a very big win.

Hudson fell behind 6-0 but thanks to two touchdowns in less than one minute before halftime the Tigers led 14-6 at intermission. Then they went up 21-6 in period three and they finally led 28-14 with just over ten minutes left. Things got interesting at the end but the Tigers held on. “We needed our defense to bail us out at the end and they did,” said Luma, who saw his vaunted Tiger running game shut down for much of the game. “We had to make some adjustments and changed some things and we went to the air. Our play-action passes were effective and that was the difference.”

Statistically, things were different also in this Hudson win but this ending was different than three previous trips to a state final game. This time the Tigers were holding the biggest and brightest trophy and the one that said MHSAA 2010 Division 7 State Champions.

The journey that began with an opening game win over Hillsdale 28-6 on August 27th at Thompson Field ended at a bigger, more well-known place called Ford Field on Saturday, November 27th. It was a three-month journey with a lot of thrills and happy moments. No Hudson team had ever won all 14 games in a season but the team of 2010 was equal to the task and brought home a trophy that some wondered would ever come Hudson’s way. “This team set a standard and has left a legacy for other Hudson teams to live up to,” said Luma, who saw his team’s 11th trip to the playoffs end in a different way than the previous ten. “We played like champions and that is why we won a state championship.” By scoring 28 points the Tigers set a new school record for most scored in a year with 527 just another example of this being a record-setting year for the Tigers.

Congratulations to the Tiger players, coaches and fans on this great achievement!