For Ben Hicks, football finally fun again

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Ben Hicks must love the Big Easy.

The junior quarterback threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns, including a 67-yard strike to James Proche in the final minutes that proved to be the deciding score in the Mustangs’ 27-23 comeback win over Tulane Saturday in New Orleans.

It was Hicks’ first start since September 15 when SMU lost on the road to Michigan and his first victory as a starter since November 2017.

“We felt like he was going to give us the best chance to win,” SMU head coach Sonny Dykes said. “He made enough plays down the stretch to help us do that.”

In 2016, the last time Hicks was in the city, he threw for 302 yards and engineered two scoring drives to help the Mustangs overcome a 10-point deficit in the final minutes. Last year, he found Trey Quinn in the end zone with just over two minutes left to lead the Mustangs to a three-point victory. Saturday’s game rang familiar: the Mustangs stumbled out to an early deficit and Hicks’ heroics saved the day.

Tulane scored the game’s first points when a snap went over Hicks’ head and out of the back of the end zone, giving the Green Wave a 2-0 lead. After play was suspended for more than an hour due to lightning late in the first quarter, Tulane scored again to put the Mustangs in a nine-point hole.

That’s when Dykes decided to gamble. He had his team go for it on fourth and one inside his own territory, and Hicks rewarded him by finding a wide-open Xavier Jones down the right sideline, making the score 9-7, where it would remain until halftime.

But Hicks was intercepted on SMU’s first drive of the second half, and Tulane defensive back Donnie Lewis Jr. took it back for a Green Wave touchdown, making the score 16-7. On the sideline, Dykes was irate. He threw his headset, breaking it in the process. It was the fourth time a Hicks turnover had led to a defensive touchdown this season, but this one wasn’t on him.

“That really wasn’t on Ben,” Dykes said. “I was frustrated at the time, and I know Ben was too. He’s worked hard to be our quarterback and wants to be the quarterback.”

Instead of hanging his head, Hicks came out swinging. He led SMU on a scoring drive that he finished off with a 16-yard touch pass to Reggie Roberson that cut Tulane’s lead to two.

“I wasn’t too worried about it,” Hicks said. “I felt like I had a good week of practice and the coaches knew that. I’m happy that they decided to stick with me, and I’m happy that we were able to go out and get the win.”

After the Green Wave scored again, Hicks again had an answer. This time he completed three of five passing attempts for 46 yards before Braeden West found the end zone on a 29-yard run to make the score 23-21.

The winning pass to Proche marked a high point in Hicks’ season, which has been full of ups and downs. He struggled in SMU’s first three games and was benched against Michigan, where freshman quarterback Will Brown came onto the field and played his way into the starting role.

Hicks came in against Navy with the team needing a score in the overtime period and led a drive that gave the Mustangs their first win over the Midshipmen since 1997. After he played well in SMU’s loss to UCF two weeks ago, he once again took the job back. And now, he’s once again the hero, beating a team for the third-straight year in the final minutes.

After the game, he reflected on the journey. It’s changed him, he said. He’s no longer the same quarterback that he was at the beginning of the season. In short, the game of football is fun again for Ben Hicks.

“Getting benched really made me miss the game,” Hicks said. “It made me appreciate how much I loved this game and how much I had invested in this game. It made me kind of crave it again. I knew when I get my opportunity I was going to take advantage of it. That’s about as fun as it gets right there, and that’s why I love it.”

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