INDIANAPOLIS — The journey from Blackshear to Athens to Ellisville, Mississippi and back to Athens was not the path that most college football national champions take, but national championship winning quarterback Stetson Bennett IV wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bennett was arguably the most talked about player from either team heading into Monday night’s game, and on the biggest platform of his football life, the kid known as “The Mailman” delivered. Bennett was the offensive MVP in Georgia’s 33-18 win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship game.
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He fumbled the ball early in the first quarter on a quarterback scramble, but it bounced right back into his stomach as he fell to the ground. No harm, no foul. The play that got Bennett and the Bulldogs nervous was his second fumble in the 4th quarter as he dropped back to pass. Bennett appeared to be trying to throw the ball under pressure not far from his own goal line when the ball popped loose and bounced right into the hands of Alabama’s Drew Sanders as he was running out of bounds.
The Crimson Tide would score a touchdown a couple of plays later and led 18-13 with just over 10 minutes left in the game.
“I knew when I fumbled the ball that I was not going to be the reason we lost the game,” Bennett said. “It’s the thing Coach (Kirby) Smart has been preaching all year. Toughness and resiliency. I knew those guys beside me had my back and I had their back.”
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Just two minutes later, Bennett delivered what arguably could be called the most important pass he’s ever thrown. A 40-yard deep ball to receiver Adonai Mitchell was a game-changing touchdown when Mitchell made an incredible catch. Suddenly the Bulldogs had a 19-18 lead.
It was a lead they would not relinquish.
Like any 23-year old college kid, all of the emotion hit Bennett like a wrecking ball. He could be seen on the sidelines as the clock approached zero, tears in his eyes, hugging his friends and teammates. Even though he played it off, the moment finally had caught up to him.
“It hadn’t hit me yet. It hit me a little bit on the sidelines,” said Bennett. “No, I can’t articulate it, I’m not that smart. It feels great.”
“The tears afterwards, that just hit me,” Bennett said. “I hadn’t cried like that in years. When you put in as much time as we do into this thing, you know the blood, sweat and tears. You know it really means something.”
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