INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Stetson Bennett may solely consider one factor.
One aim. One message.
I can’t be accountable for costing Georgia its first national championship in 41 years.
What a depressing factor to suppose, proper? There he was, Georgia’s walk-on quarterback-turned-starter, standing on the sideline with such an terrible mantra working by way of his thoughts. How he bought to that time includes one of many wildest performs you’ll see in a soccer sport.
Within the second half of a decent sport with the national championship on the road, Bennett raced away from stress and, whereas being hit, heaved a go into the air for what gave the impression to be an incompletion. Solely, it wasn’t. Alabama, to the shock of many, recovered the fumble contained in the UGA pink zone and the Crimson Tide scored what was then the go-ahead landing with about 10 minutes left within the sport.
FORDE: How Kirby, Georgia Lastly Broke By to Win It All
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Again on the sideline, there was Bennett, that one thought racing by way of his head.
“I wasn’t going to be the explanation we misplaced this sport,” he stated. “I gotta repair that.”
And oh did he. After that catastrophe of a play, Bennett carved by way of Alabama to acquire that aim of his: He didn’t value Georgia the national title. In actual fact, he received it for the Bulldogs—a 33–18 victory over the top-seeded Tide.
Following the turnover, Bennett accomplished his remaining 4 passes of the sport for 83 yards, together with a pair of landing throws that ensured UGA’s four-decade national title drought ended. As seconds ticked off the sport clock, the senior grew emotional on the sideline, falling into the arms of workers members and teammates, tears streaming down his face—an outburst indicative of a Georgia-bred child main his dwelling state college to the height of the game.
His meandering and fairly unbelievable route right here started as a scout-teamer in Athens after which went by way of a Mississippi junior faculty earlier than a return to Georgia.
“5 years in the past, he was delivering passes like Baker Mayfield towards the scout staff. We had been impressed,” UGA coach Kirby Good stated. “To suppose it may come this far, what a narrative.”
In opposition to the percentages, Stetson took over as starter in 2020 after which, surprisingly for some, fended off hotshot switch JT Daniels this 12 months. Regardless of the chirping critics and fan bashings, he stored delivering huge wins, taking part in regular if not typically spectacular ball.
In the course of the national title sport, the doubters re-emerged. In its first eight drives of Monday’s sport, Georgia had six factors, 5 punts and 4 three-and-outs. Followers had been stressed—each within the stadium and on the web.
In actual fact, the Bulldogs gained a mixed one yard on their first two drives of the sport, sufficient of a pattern dimension for some followers to name for a quarterback change. Just some minutes into the sport, Daniels’s title was trending on Twitter.
After which, later, got here the bizarre play.
With Georgia main 13–12, Bennett rolled proper and launched a go that bounded towards the sideline. Alabama linebacker Brian Department scooped up the bouncing ball, barely staying in bounds as he corralled it.
The group murmured and Georgia offensive gamers started to organize for the following play earlier than officers gathered and the announcement was made: The play was a fumble and Alabama recovered.
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They reviewed the play to (1) ensure that Department possessed the ball earlier than his toe stepped out of bounds—he was lower than an inch in bounds—and (2) that what gave the impression to be a go was indeed a fumble. The decision on the sector stood, the Tide bought possession on the Georgia 16-yard line after which scored the go-ahead landing with 10 minutes, 14 seconds left.
“What we dominated is that the quarterback misplaced possession of the ball previous to his hand coming ahead, so we dominated fumble,” head referee Duane Heydt stated in a press release by way of a pool report.
NCAA coordinator of officers Steve Shaw says the ACC officiating crew bought the decision proper.
“The quarterback didn’t have agency management of the ball because the hand went ahead, so replay let that a part of the play stand,” he tells Sports activities Illustrated in a textual content. “There was clearly no indeniable video proof to overturn the decision.”
On the sideline, UGA working again James Prepare dinner gathered the offense as officers reviewed the play. “It was within the refs’ palms,” Prepare dinner stated. “We bought all the blokes collectively and stored chopping. We had been nonetheless within the sport. We stored chopping.”
On the opposite sideline, linebacker Will Anderson Jr. and Alabama bought a momentum-swinging reward. “It was an excellent shift of vitality,” the linebacker stated. “It was one thing we would have liked.”
Bennett, in the meantime, stewed. He was distraught, disillusioned and annoyed. How can this lengthy journey finish in such a bitter method?
“We weren’t going to let a turnover like that stop us from having a national championship,” Bennett stated. “I wasn’t going to let that occur.”
And so there he went, carving by way of Bama’s secondary. Down 18–13, Bennett hit Jermaine Burton for 18 yards after which Kenny McIntosh for 10. He was sacked earlier than launching a superbly positioned go to Adonai Mitchell within the nook of the top zone—a rollicking, lead-taking 40-yard landing. A sequence later, whereas nursing a 19–18 lead, the Bulldogs bought a defensive cease after which marched down the sector for a back-breaking drive. Bennett handed off 5 straight instances, Georgia backs gained 32 yards after which the QB capped it with a 15-yard display screen go to tight finish Brock Bowers for an eight-point lead.
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“Our offensive line, we mashed them on that drive,” Bennett stated. “We performed Georgia soccer on that drive. We weren’t going to be stopped. It felt nice handing the ball off and watching these dudes.”
Afterward, Bennett pointed to everybody however him. The O-line, the working backs and, most of all, a protection that largely suffocated Alabama all the evening—a unit that sealed the win late by returning an interception for a landing.
However who’s bought a greater story than Bennett? He’s from Blackshear, Ga., about 200 miles south of Athens, and was raised as a Bulldog by UGA alum mother and father. He was a two-star prospect who wanted to take the junior faculty route and beat out some highly-touted guys on Georgia’s roster to assert the beginning gig.
Afterward, he was in considerably of a haze, shocked by all of it.
“I’m speechless,” he stated.
“Good Lord. Wow!” he later added.
He had a message for walk-ons across the nation, these counted out and on the bench.
“Preserve preventing and preserve your mouth shut,” he stated. “Life is hard.”
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