By Dave Wagner
BLACKWATER DRAW — Eastern New Mexico University’s quarterback job is Steven Hinson’s to lose next fall, but the diminutive signal-caller welcomes the competition.
Hinson’s Green squad lost a 19-14 decision in Tuesday’s annual Green & Silver Game at Greyhound Stadium, but ENMU coaches got a good look at all four of their quarterback candidates.
Redshirt freshman Michael Benton completed 3-of-4 passes for 79 yards and rushed for a team-best 62 yards for the Silver while his backup, Jon Bell, threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jeffery Toliver for the clinching score with 3:34 left.
Meantime, the Silver defense limited the slippery Hinson to 18 yards rushing and 3-of-10 through the air for 119 yards. He did lead both Green scoring drives, though, running for the first tally late in the third period and throwing a 21-yard TD strike to running back Dwayne Davis .
“I love all these guys,” Hinson said of his fellow QBs. “The competition is there; they all play hard. It’s keeping me on my toes, and I know I have to play hard all the time.”
Russell Park, Hinson’s backup in the scrimmage, went 0-for-2 passing in about three full series.
“We just couldn’t get anything going when I was in there,” said Park, who will be a fourth-year junior in the fall. “But this is the best spring game we’ve had since I’ve been here. It was real close.”
Veteran ENMU coach Bud Elliott thought a lot of players performed well, including the quarterbacks.
“I thought Steven had a good ballgame, and Michael Benton had a good game,” Elliott said. “All four of them played pretty well.
“All of our backs ran hard, and there were times when the defensive fronts got off the football well on both sides.”
The game, originally scheduled for Sunday, was postponed by weekend rains which left water standing on parts of the stadium turf.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Hinson, who will be a senior, said it can be tough running an offense against players who see it every day in practice.
“We got some confidence the more we played,” Hinson said. “(Linebacker Jeff) Howard and (defensive tackle) Tremaine (Johnson) are two guys (for the Silver team) who know the offense.”
Benton scored on a 15-yard option keeper just 15 seconds into the contest. The TD was set up when the Green’s J.J. Jennings fumbled a pitchout on the game’s first snap, and defensive end Larry Roybal of Fort Sumner recovered for the Silver.
“I think we had a good spring,” said Benton, who played in a similar option-style offense in high school at Everman, Texas. “There was some competition (for positions), and I think it made a lot of people step up their games. You know the guys behind you are nipping at your heels, and they want that spot just like you do.”
Benton said his redshirt year has been beneficial.
“It’s a similar offense,” he said. “Some of the plays are the same, they just have different names. (But) I really wanted to come in and learn the system, and I really think (being a redshirt has) helped me adjust to college.”
Bell, Hinson’s backup last fall, is perhaps the best passer of the four but admitted he’s had to adjust to the option game.
Still, the California junior college transfer said the competition has been good.
“On the field, it’s competitive; off the field, we’re all friends,” he said. “I think all of us are getting better.”