Nov. 17, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
He doesn’t look a bit like Golden Richards and he looks a lot like Grizzly Adams, but Ray Beno made a bear of a play Saturday that would make many a wide receiver proud.
The young man is a left tackle. He’s a chunk, to put it bluntly. A human block.
His job, usually, is to do like he did early in Georgia Tech’s 42-24 win over Duke when he pulled all the way across the field, flattened Blue Devils freshman linebacker Kyler Brown and then, after Brown got up, leveled him again as the Yellow Jackets swept.
Saturday, he also caught a pass, and a pretty big one.
“Hey, I just do what I can,” he said with a broad smile when told after the game that “Beno for Heisman” was trending on Twitter.
Beno’s been doing his job well recently, as have all of his Tech linemates, but he blew an assignment only to turn the moment to gold. His mere seconds of fame were in a way a snapshot of the day in Bobby Dodd Stadium where the Jackets built a buzz that if predicted a few weeks ago would’ve drawn hysterical laughter.
The only chuckles Saturday came when Beno’s teammates suggested that the 6-foot-1, 292-pound junior from Newnan ought to be mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
That’s only slightly less thinkable than the notion of the Jackets looking – potentially – at making serious postseason plans.
Once 2-4 and 1-3 in the ACC, they’re very much in the ACC mix (5-3), and Beno’s magic moment was analogous to Tech’s turning of the tide.
There wasn’t much comfortable about the first half Saturday. This looked very much like a game where whichever team failed to score on a single drive might lose for that reason. Head coach Paul Johnson said that for a while, “it looked like one of those deals,” where to win a team had to score every time.
So, with a 21-17 lead as the second half began, the Jackets set out in less than convincing fashion. They’d scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions, twice with Tevin Washington holding the pilot’s stick and once with Vad Lee at the controls. Duke had moved the ball smartly in the first two quarters as well.
Washington rushed for one yard and then two on the first two plays of the second half to leave the Jackets in a situation where they’re less than cozy: third-and-long.
When Washington faked right and then threw back left to wide receiver Chris Jackson, it was clear that something was askew. The pass was a tad high, and Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell was drawing a fast and unimpeded bead.
That was Beno’s fault. He’d pulled, but slower than the design.
“I was supposed to block that corner,” he said. “As soon as I saw I wasn’t going to make it, I stopped . . . and kind of ducked to make sure the ball would clear me.”
No way this play was going to net a first down.
Then, a strange thing happened. The ball and Cockrell arrived at Jackson just about simultaneously. Up popped the pigskin. There was Beno, who had never, ever, in his life run a football in a game, let alone caught one.
Every player on the field becomes an eligible receiver once a thrown ball hits the an eligible receiver or a defender, and Beno’s instincts kicked in as he gathered in the orb.
He started moving forward. That was a task because he didn’t have his balance as his career as a receiver began. He even put a hand down to keep from eating turf.
Golden Richards was a wide receiver in the NFL. His golden locks matched his name and his job description, but he was mostly non-descript with the Dallas Cowboys (1973-’78) and Chicago Bears (’78-’79). In Dallas, he toiled in relative obscurity behind wideouts Drew Pearson and Tony Hill.
His greatest moment came on an odd play. When he caught a touchdown pass in the Cowboys’ Super Bowl XII win over the Broncos, it was thrown by a halfback – stumpy Robert Newhouse.
Beno didn’t score. He did gain an important first down by rumbling and stumbling nine yards forward directly in front of the Tech bench.
“All I know is the ball popped out of Chris Jackson’s hands, and I said, ‘We need a play right now,’ so I just took it and ran with it,” he said. “At that point, I was either way, going toward some end zone. First time I ever carried a ball in a game in my whole life.
I’m getting Heisman stuff already.”
The Jackets went a little wild, jumping around like they won something big. It was a Golden moment.
“It was huge. It was a huge play, and sometimes you need something like that,” Johnson said. “They’ve been going the other way.”
After the game, nose tackle T.J. Barnes laughed like a bear at the thought of it.
“That was actually interesting,” Barnes said. “I saw the ball in the air and thought, ‘Somebody’s going to catch that ball, either Chris or the DB who was guarding him. To see Beno catch it was kind of amazing. It might be a Top 10 play on ESPN.”
Ten plays later the Jackets found the end zone again, when Washington threw the first of his three second-half touchdown passes. That was good for 28 yards to B-back Zach Laskey. Tech led 28-17, although Duke soon pulled to within 28-24 only to see the Jackets hold the Blue Devils to 33 total yards over their last three possessions.
Thus ended a 13-play, 75-yard drive that was one of Tech’s more modest.
Beno’s 15 seconds of fame were brief, but large like him. It felt the way the day felt, which was warm(er than the ambient temperature) and fuzzy.
Washington ran for a score and threw for three in his final game in Bobby Dodd, but he tipped his helmet to Ray “Golden” Beno.
“That was a big momentum shift right there,” Washington said. “Beno set the tone for the offense coming out in the second half.”
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