INDIANAPOLIS — Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett had one thought pulsing through his mind when a fourth-quarter scramble went awry in the CFP Championship Game.
“I put my head down and said, ‘that’s not going to be how we lose this game,” said Bennett, whose fumble at the UGA 16 set up an Alabama touchdown that gave the Tide a short-lived 18-13 lead.
True to his word, Bennett bounced back and directed two touchdown drives, leading the Bulldogs to the 33-18 win over Alabama at Lucas Oil Stadium.
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“I just knew there was no way that we were going to let a turnover like that stop us from winning a national championship,” Bennett said. “I wasn’t going to be the reason we lost tonight.”
Bennett was 17-of-26 passing for 224 yards with 2 touchdowns, overcoming 4 sacks and the costly turnover to add another chapter to his storybook career.
The undersized former walk-on and fourth-string quarterback had completed his journey as a national champion on Monday night, taking his place in Georgia folklore.
“I hope it gives somebody a little hope,” said Bennett, whose path to the title included a year of junior college football in 2018 before returning to Georgia as a backup in 2019. “Just keep fighting. Keep your mouth shut, work hard. Life’s tough. You’ve just got to fight through it.”
That’s exactly what the Bulldogs did against Alabama, which controlled much of the action in holding a 9-6 lead deep into the third quarter.
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“It was the defense that kept us in this game when we were stumbling over our own feet in the first half and at the start of the second half,” Bennett said. “We could have done so much better, but we got the job done when we needed to.”
No doubt, it didn’t take long for offensive coordinator Todd Monken to dial up the types of plays that would enable Bennett to respond once the Tide had gone up 18-13 with 10:14 left to play.
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Bennett and the Bulldogs needed only 5 snaps to drive 75 yards and reclaim the lead:
• Bennett to Jermaine Burton for 18 yards to the Georgia 43
• Bennett deep for Burton, flagrant pass interference, first down at the Alabama 42.
• Bennett to a leaping Kenny McIntosh, 10 yards to the Tide 32.
• Bennett sacked for an 8-yard loss back to the Alabama 40.
• Bennett to Adonai Mitchell in the corner of the end zone, touchdown, 19-18 lead.
“Coach Monken dialed up awesome play action, we had been running the ball a lot,” Bennett said. “And it was three straight play-action passes and one deep ball.
“It’s the thing Coach (Kirby) Smart and the team preached the whole year: resiliency, toughness and composure. I knew those guys had my back, and I had their backs, too.”
The Georgia defense fed off the offense’s sudden burst of energy, sending Alabama Heisman Trophy winner and the Tide three-and-out on its ensuing series.
When the Bulldogs got the ball back, up 19-18 with 7:10 remaining, Bennett knew what Smart wanted to do.
“We had (7) minutes left, so the goal was to score a touchdown, (because) in our minds we figured they would go down and score, so we didn’t think one point was enough,” Bennett said.
“But It was also to bleed the clock.”
It was the Georgia run game’s turn:
James Cook for 4 yards, Zamir White for 7 yards, then White again for 5 and 7 yards and the Bulldogs were suddenly at the Alabama 39, the clock running,
George Pickens drew a pass interference penalty to move the ball 15 yards closer to the end zone, and White followed with another 7-yard blast, and then Cook for 2 more.
Facing a third-and-1 at the Tide 15, Monken had Alabama right where he wanted them, and Bennett’s play-action fake did the rest.
The Tide defense swarmed to where they believed a hand off had gone, only for Bennett to pivot with the ball still in his hand, and find Brock Bowers for a 15-yard touchdown.
“You saw it, our offensive line mashed them, and we played Georgia football on that drive,” Bennett said. “We weren’t going to be stopped on that drive. It felt great handing the ball over and watching those dudes.”
The Georgia lead was 26-18 with 3:33 left, and it proved too much for Young to overcome, finally succumbing with an interception that Kelee Ringo returned 79-yards for a touchdown.
Bennett, fully validated, shared his final thoughts as a Georgia Bulldog as confetti floated through the air, a setting fit for the movie or documentary that will no doubt one day capture his story.
“I love this team, I believe in myself. I think I’m the best quarterback,” Bennett said, explaining the dogged determination that led him to return for another season after losing the starting job to preseason Heisman favorite JT Daniels.
“I just love everything about this place, and I wanted to win a national championship here.”