In a few-year span, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett went from Bulldogs walk-on to program legend.
On Monday night, his status as one of Georgia’s all-time greats was cemented with a 33-18 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide, winning the Bulldogs a national championship for the first time in 41 years. In the game’s final moments, the ESPN broadcast cut to Bennett on the sidelines, who had broken down in tears as the clock was winding down.
Bennett finished the game with 17 completions in 26 attempts, good for 224 passing yards and two touchdowns. Though Bennett coughed up a costly fumble early in the game, he said in the postgame press conference that he wasn’t going to let his turnover be the reason that the Bulldogs lost the game — and surely enough, it wasn’t.
Bennett’s tears first started flowing on the sidelines with just over three minutes left in the game. Alabama, trailing 28-18, had one last drive to try and bring the game within striking distance. Bryce Young managed to carry the Crimson Tide’s drive all the way to the Georgia 44-yard line, but a Keele Ringo 79-yard pick-six sealed the deal for the Bulldogs, putting the game out of reach.
Bennett, a 23-year-old former walk-on, blossomed into the unsung hero throughout Georgia’s national championship trip. He first came on for Georgia after the season-opening starter, JT Daniels — a USC transfer that first assumed Georgia’s starting quarterback role in 2020 — suffered a core injury, and Bennett has since catalyzed the Georgia offense. In fact, the speedy quarterback has played so well that Smart opted to keep the Blackshear, Georgia native under center, which in turned moved Daniels, the former On3 Consensus five-star recruit, to the bench.
Though Bennett was unable to cap off Georgia’s perfect regular-season performance with an SEC Championship, he was able to avenge that 41-24 loss to Alabama on Monday. Now, for the first time since 1980, the Georgia Bulldogs are national champions.
Bennett talks Georgia title celebration
Before the game, Bennett told ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski that he’d like to celebrate as Joe Burrow once did: in iconic, cigar-smoking fashion.
“Remember how Stetson Bennett celebrated that Orange Bowl victory against Michigan?” Wojciechowski said on ESPN’s College Gameday, calling back to Bennett’s viral orange-throwing celebration. “I asked him last week, ‘What do you do if you win a national championship? How do you celebrate?’ (Bennett) said, ‘You know what? I kind of like the way Joe Burrow smoked those cigars after LSU won its Natty.’ Then he caught himself, and he said, ‘You know what — I have to focus on this game, this moment and not worry about cigars and celebrations.”
Bennett had every right to celebrate the Orange Bowl victory, as Georgia — which fell from No. 1 to No. 3 after suffering its first loss of the year in the SEC Championship — capped off a 34-11 rout of No. 2 Michigan in the Orange Bowl thanks to his performance. Bennett was named player of the game after completing 20 of his 30 passing attempts for 313 passing yards and three touchdowns, adding 32 rushing yards to his performance. The win marked a major turning point in Bennett’s career, as the former walk-on drew criticism after throwing two interceptions in the SEC title loss to Alabama.
Now, he has every right to celebrate the national championship, too.