Georgia’s Stetson Bennett moves from extra to legend with CFP National Championship against Bama

INDIANAPOLIS – The hero was both easy to spot and yet impossible to see. As it always has been.

The 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship had been over for a few minutes, with the Georgia Bulldogs finally defeating Archnemese Alabama 33-18 in a game much tighter than this final score will ever explain. The air above the grass at Lucas Oil Stadium was filled with cigar smoke and confetti. Georgia soccer players, coaches and family were running frantically around, gathered in pockets of people, kissing, sobbing and screaming in groups of two, three, five people at most.

Then there was the horde surrounding No. 13. The quarterback. Stetson Bennett IV, named after the country club and blue collar work ethic. You couldn’t see it, but it was most definitely there, its 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame easily obscured by TV cameras, boom mics, and full-extension smartphone camera snappers.

“Bennett! Bennett! They need you on stage! shouted a Georgia sports staff member accompanied by a few security guards as they struggled to enter the circle of photographers, reporters and teammates who had formed a wall around the quarterback. The kid who passed on scholarships to smaller schools and chose to walk to Georgia, only to go to college, come back, lose the starting job and find it due to a starter injury, while still being pursued by Dawgs who didn’t I don’t believe he had the flash or the talent to compete with more dynamic QBs like Bama’s new Heisman winner Bryce Young.

So why stick to it? Because his only childhood dream was to do exactly what he did on Monday night. The kid who went to games in Athens, Georgia, and ran around his backyard with a soccer ball under his arm draped in a UGA jersey, living out every fantasy of every kid in the world – winning it all for the team he was born adoring.

“Bennett! Bennett! We really have to go!

“At the present time?” the 23-year-old with curly hair yelled.

“Yeah, you’re the offensive MVP!”

Bennett laughed and trotted to join his escorts on the podium. “Well, look at this!” a teammate, pulling a black “Victory Lane” national title t-shirt over his shoulders, told the quarterback while running. “They all love your ass now, don’t they ?!”

The quarterback smiled and nodded, but graciously refused to revel in it. He did the same as he stood atop that stage and soaked up the applause from thousands of fans clad in red and black, many of whom had been clamoring for his bench since early December. He politely avoided questions about skeptics during the post-game celebration.

“What does your story, your commitment, your fight, your attitude tell all the underdogs, all the walk-ons out there?” College GameDay host Rece Davis asked her on stage on Live World TV.

Bennett’s response? “I mean, I have no idea …”

He did the same later, in his conversations with the national media.

“I’ve always told you, and I think some people maybe didn’t believe me, that I really don’t hear any of that stuff, social media and stuff, I really don’t,” he said on Monday. night was turning into Tuesday morning. “Our goal was to do what we did. We did. Some things someone said about me on the internet is not going to change that.”

Good thing. Because at halftime of Monday’s game there were a lot of people saying a lot of things, from hardcore Dawgs to people who probably hadn’t watched much, if at all, Georgia football the entire time. season. He was 11 of 17 for 127 yards, no touchdowns and had been sacked twice. Every throw seemed questionable, and so the questions arose like a tidal wave.

It only got worse when he lost a pass to a fumble (whether it’s actually a fumble is a whole different discussion) early in the fourth quarter which led to a touchdown pass. in Alabama and an 18-13 Crimson Tide lead. But Bennett responded with a 40-yard touchdown pass just four plays later. Georgia took a 19-18 lead and never lagged again.

Bennett’s final line of stats: 17 for 26, 224 yards, 2 touchdowns, both coming in in the fourth quarter.

“The fumble was not cathartic,” he said in his post-match press conference. “It was just football. I didn’t lower my head to say, ‘This is not how we’re going to lose this game.'”

He then began to name the names of his teammates who he said stepped up and did what they had to do to win the game, working almost as hard to take credit as he did to beat Bama.

Maybe “I can’t lose it this way” isn’t what Bennett did, said, or felt. But in the stands, his family thought so. His supporters at home in Pierce County, Ga. Thought so. And so were those teammates he mentioned to try to distract from himself. Not that way. Not him.

“We weren’t going to let that happen,” said receiver Jermaine Burton during the on-field celebration. He started this ride with an 18 yard pickup. “We’re not going to let that happen to any of us, but most of all, we weren’t going to let it happen to Stetson. Not after everything he did for us. It wasn’t going to end like that.”

This is not the case. It didn’t end with the odd escape. It didn’t end with the wobbly first three quarters. It didn’t end when Twitter said it should be put on the bench.

Instead, the too small, too slow dreamer, “he’s just a game manager,” became the first former replacement to beat a Nick Saban team since 1997. The first quarterback who was recruited as two stars to win a national title. The first QB to be ranked outside the top 20 at his position to win a national title in the past two decades. He was ranked 104th.

The last five quarterbacks to win the college football playoff trophy were Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow and Mac Jones. They were all first-round NFL draft picks. Bennett’s latest projections ranged from a late third round to a free agent at best. But now he’s the first quarterback to lead Georgia to a national championship since New Year’s Day 1981. He’ll never have to buy a lunch or a beer in the state of Georgia for the rest of his life. life.

“Did I cry? Yes. Bennett confessed as he left the media room around 1 a.m. “I don’t think I’ve cried in years, but I couldn’t hold myself back tonight. And I don’t think I’m done crying yet. No chance.”

Stetson Bennett IV walked down the hall and made his way to the locker room, where his teammates lovingly waited and no social media enemies were allowed anywhere near the door. He entered a circle of pending sports department employees and Indiana police officers. The little guy immediately disappeared among them.

Dawg’s immortal hero. Easy to spot and yet impossible to see.

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