Tiger season leaves a legacy

December 1, 2010 —

By Bill Mullaly

The Hudson Tigers found out just how much fun it was to win a state football championship on Saturday at Ford Field in downtown Detroit. One year after leaving the same building with a loss this time the Tigers could exit with happy memories that will last a lifetime. It is one thing to win a huge game at Thompson Field but it’s a whole nother experience to win indoors in late November playing for an elusive state title. After the big 28-26 win over the Ishpeming Hematites the Tigers claimed the biggest football prize the school had yet to win after three previous trips to the final game. “This was very gratifying to win the state title,” said Tiger head coach Chris Luma, who had taken two earlier teams to the final game in 2003 and 2009 and he also played in the other final game loss in 1975. “All year the team talked about leaving a legacy and how we have left a standard for other Hudson teams to try and live up to what the 2010 team accomplished.”

Luma has won a lot of big games leading the Tiger football program but this one was the biggest yet, as Hudson was seeking it first state crown in football. In this business you never know when you will again get to this site with this opportunity. “This game was what championship games should be like and we played like champions. We didn’t turn the ball over and we capitalized on their mistakes. Both teams were physical and they took away some of the things we do best so we went to the air with we had some great throws and catches.”

For the players it was the culmination of a great year with this being the first 14-0 season in school history. A perfect season of playing Hudson football and winning the last game of the year meant the Tigers had gained a highly-coveted state title. “This is a great feeling and it was a real team effort,” said linebacker-fullback Grant Benschoter who had nine tackles on defense and several tough runs on key short yardage plays on offense. Benschoter has been banged up with a sore foot for the past almost two months but continued to play and summed up why. “It is expected from your family, your team, the community and yourself,” said Benschoter. “There is a mentality of toughness in Hudson that you have to live up to and that is all I was doing.”

A former Bulldog from Morenci who came to Hudson three years ago was thrilled to be a part of all the happiness. “It feels really good to win this but mostly I am just thankful to have had this opportunity to be a part of playing football for Hudson,” said halfback-defensive halfback Camden McCaskey, who caught a touchdown pass and also had an interception.

Another Tiger who came onto the scene in August and who left a mark was thrilled with how this whole story played out. “This was awesome and what a great feeling it is to win the state title,” said quarterback Jimmy Williams who put on an aerial attack that Hudson fans will recall for years. “So many players stepped up and made big plays and everyone had positive attitudes. We got it done and this is just a special feeling.” Williams was seven of nine passing for 122 yards and a touchdown without an interception.

Hudson didn’t follow the usual script of running for over 300 yards and punishing teams with its ground attack. Instead, the Tigers had to take to the air and they did. A special play that was talked about a lot after the win was the power at 8 halfback pass. “We called about three different plays in the huddle and finally we decided to go with the halfback pass,” said Luma. Executing the play to perfection were all-state halfback Drew Milligan hitting another all-state caliber player in Matthew Smith for a key 16-yard touchdown that put Hudson up 28-14 with 6:23 to play. “I thought we could make the play work and I was able to get the ball up to Matt and he made a great catch,” said Milligan, who ran for just 80 yards against a stout Hematite defense. “This win is the best feeling in the world. It was the team working together and everyone doing their part. It is great to win the state title but sad in a way, as I just realized this is my final game for Hudson but it was a great way to go out.” Milligan, the guy who all year dazzled teams with his running ability, won the game for Hudson with a leg of a different sort. He was four of four on extra point tries giving Hudson four points, while Ishpeming was one of four on two-point tries for two points and in the end that was the difference in the game. “We have been working all year on stressing the importance of making those extra point kicks and look what happened,” said a thrilled coach Billy Seymoure in the lockerroom after the game. “We spend a lot of time working on those extra points and it helped win us a state title.”

One Tiger who stepped up and filled in all season long was fullback-halfback Dimitri Nealy. “This feels so great to win the state title,” said Nealy, who filled in admirably for the banged-up Benschoter for the final eight games of the year. “It is great to be a part of a state title team.

Senior guard Jordan Lake who threw a key block to free Milligan on the opening Tiger score was very pleased after the win. “The coaches had us ready and we went out and did what we do best and it is great to win the state title,” said Lake, a key two-year starter on the line. Offense, defense or special teams it all comes together and everyone has a job to do like senior kickoff player Jacob Lancaster. “It is an amazing feeling and it just great. I can’t think of a better ending to our season,” said Lancaster, who played well on special teams all year long. “This was my first year of football and it was a great, memorable experience.”

One Tiger who was a key reason for the win was outstanding team leader and two-way interior line player Meiko McDaniel. “This was a total team effort and we played a full four quarters. We got it done and won it all,” said McDaniel, considered by most the glue that keeps this team together on both sides of the ball. A Tiger who played like a champion and who put forth a performance that warranted many to call him the Player of the Game was Smith. He was a terror on defense and then made big plays on offense. On defense he forced both the fumbles the Hematities lost and dragged down the Ishpeming quarterback as he was trying to knot the score with 46 seconds left. “I tried to play my best in the most important game of my career and I wanted to leave that field a winner with no excuses and our team played like champions,” said Smith, who somehow was dumbfoundedly left off the Division 7-8 all-state team.

Tiger defensive lineman Ricky Beach said it simply, “This was a great win and it’s a great feeling but it was a tough game,” said Beach, who recovered the second fumble of the game that Smith forced.

The Tiger coaching staff was quite pleased as well. “This was a win by and for everyone,” said defensive coordinator Danny Rogers. “It seemed our defense carried us the first half and then our offense bailed us out the second half. The kids, the coaches, the fans it seems like everyone has a part of this.” Rogers saw his defense give up the second most points of the season but he knows the end result matters most. “We made enough plays and we hung on there at the end. This is an unbelievable feeling to win a state championship.”

Tiger line coach Mark Luma just can’t say enough good things about his linemen who led this team to the state crown. “We had a great group on this offensive line the last two years and they did an amazing job,” said Luma, referring to two-year starters like Smith, Lake and McDaniel. “This feels great to get this state title and our linemen have played a big part in our success. We have tough kids and they did the job whether we were running the ball or protecing the quarterback throwing.”

To go 14-0 is an amazing feat and linebacker Nathaniel Osborne summed it up best. “We have been working very hard all year for this moment and it feels great,” said the linebacker who was in on a team-high nine tackles.

Hudson claimed its first-ever MHSAA championship and all involved with the football program will have happy memories to last a lifetime.