It’s easier to tell an athlete with a bad memory to forget that last terrible play or that last embarrassing loss than to do it for real. Especially when there is a national championship at stake.
Unless you’re Stetson Bennett IV, that is.
Bennett got rid of a fumble early in the fourth quarter that could have doomed Georgia’s chances of winning its first national title in more than 40 years, uncorking a 40-yard touchdown pass on the next drive.
“In no way would I let a turnover like that stop us from winning a national championship,” said Bennett, who was named the offensive player of the game. “I wasn’t going to let that happen. It wasn’t going to be the reason we lost.”
Bennett threw for another touchdown just in case in the Georgia series after that and, in a bit of poetic irony, Kelee Ringo made a pick-six to end a 33-18 win over Alabama on Monday night.
It was Georgia’s first national title since 1981, when Herschel Walker and the Bulldogs capped their undefeated season with a 17-10 victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
Georgia was in the national championship game four years ago, only to lose to Alabama in overtime.
“That was with me for a long time,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who had never beaten his mentor Nick Saban before.
“This will be with me for much longer.”
And this game will be remembered for its hectic and fabulous ending. Fortunately, because it was a failure for much of the first three quarters.
The college football showcase has become stale, with the same few teams showing up and games ending in beatings in recent years. This was supposed to be better, a showdown of the top two teams from the best conference.
For Bennett and the Bulldogs, it also offered a chance at redemption.
They had been the best team in the country for much of the regular season, beating Clemson in the season opener and then blasting their way to the top of the SEC East. But Alabama made them, and Bennett in particular, seem less than one-dimensional in the SEC title game last month.
Bennett threw two interceptions in that game, one occurred in the red zone and the other resulted in a pick-six for Crimson Tide.
“Life is tough,” said Bennett, who grew up dreaming of playing for Georgia. “I just have to fight to get over it.”
But early in the fourth quarter, Bennett and the Bulldogs looked headed for another meltdown.
With 11:35 left, Bennett was sacked and fumbled. Alabama got him back at Georgia 16 and scored four plays later.
It was a colossal change. Even though Alabama was very short-staffed, with catcher John Metchie already out with a knee injury, Crimson Tide’s other 1,000-yard catcher Jameson Williams left the game in the second quarter, it looked like another title. national was inevitable.
Instead of Bennett’s success during the regular season being a mirage, however, it was his shaky performance in the SEC title game.
Showing that his confidence hadn’t been broken, he opened Georgia’s next drive with an 18-yard complete pass. Three plays later, he found Adonai Mitchell for the 40-yard score.
“He had to. Otherwise, we were going to lose,” Bennett said. “They took advantage of (the fumble) and I thought, ‘I have to fix this.’ “
Now he and the Bulldogs have a memory to cherish forever.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism