Stetson Bennett flips fumble into fourth quarter triumph Georgia will celebrate forever

INDIANAPOLIS – Stetson Bennett could have been the answer to a trivia question for the wrong reasons.

Who was the Georgia quarterback who turned the ball over on one of the most controversial calls in college football playoff history?

That nearly happened to Bennett with 11:35 remaining in the final quarter of the 2022 college football championship game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday.

Bennett was pressured by Alabama linebacker Christian Harris, who finished for the sack. Bennett appeared to pass the ball forward, and Crimson Tide defensive back Brian Branch casually picked up the ball as it bounced off the grass.

Groping? Yes, the play was declared a fumble. The call stayed after a cockpit review, and Crimson Tide scored the lead touchdown. It felt like the next bloody chapter in the 41-year horror story since the Bulldogs’ last national championship. This could have been the college football equivalent of the “Tuck Rule.” Only Bennett didn’t feel that way.

“I knew once I lost the ball, it wasn’t going to be the reason we lost this game,” Bennett said. “The fumble wasn’t cathartic. The fumble, that was just football. I lowered my head and said, ‘This isn’t how we lose this game.

The quarterback who transferred to college but found his way back to Georgia again led back-to-back touchdown series. Bennett is now the answer to a trivia question for the right reasons.

Who was the offensive player of the game for Georgia in the 33-18 victory over Alabama in the CFP championship game?

Bennett will forever be that folk hero in Georgia (13-1) now. The Blackshear, Ga., Native grew up a fan of the Bulldogs. Heard legends about Buck Belue, Lindsay Scott, Herschel Walker, and 1980. Heard the highlights of legendary Georgia broadcaster Larry Munson, albeit on YouTube. In media availability Saturday, Bennett said he went from fan to player.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked if five years ago he would have believed that Bennett, who was a quarterback on the scouting team when the Bulldogs played Alabama in the CFP championship game, could lead a race for the national championship.

“I would have thought, heck, yeah, we won a national championship,” Smart said. “I would have been excited. Five years ago he was passing passes like Baker Mayfield against the scouting team. There are a lot of guys who saw him on that scouting team make plays with his feet, arm whip and decision making, and we stayed. very impressed. ”

In two series after the fumble, Bennett hit 4 of 4 passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama (12-2), which had won seven in a row against the Bulldogs.

After the fumble, Bennett led Georgia to the 32-yard line on three plays before taking a sack from Christian Harris. On the next play, Bennett hit a 40-yard touchdown pass to Adonai Mitchell on Alabama defensive back Khyree Jackson, giving Georgia a 19-18 lead.

After a triple and out, Bennett led the closing series. The Bulldogs stayed with the running game for six of seven plays, and that set up a third-and-1 pass in which Bennett faked his hand to the right and hit Brock Bowers wide open on the other side for a 15. – touchdown of the yard. That left runner Zamir White in awe.

“The only thing that caught my eye was Stetson,” White said. “Just seeing him with all this pressure on him, all the noise from the crowd and him going through it and struggling and just watching him cry, just tears of joy, man. It really is priceless.”

Kelee Ringo intercepted Bryce Young with 54 seconds to play and returned him 79 yards for TD. That was the end of a remarkable 20-point streak after what could have been a historic disaster.

Bennett finished with 17 of 26 passes for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Young was 35 of 57 for 369 yards, a TD and two interceptions. Young finished the season with the Heisman Trophy and led Alabama to a 41-24 victory over Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Bennett, however, won the rematch. When that became clear, he may have been a fan again. Bennett, like no doubt so many Georgia fans in the stands and in their living rooms, wept on the sidelines.

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“I hadn’t cried in, I don’t know, years, but that happened to me,” Bennett said. “That’s what: when you spend as much time as we do on this, blood, sweat, tears, it means something.”

Bennett smoked a cigar. They asked him what will be the first thing he will do when he returns to Athens.

“Well, I think we could celebrate a little bit tonight here at Indy first,” Bennett said.

“If we can ever get out of here,” Smart continued.

It’s a Georgia celebration for history, and Smart’s faith in Bennett made it happen.

No doubt about that.