INGLEWOOD, California. Angelo Pizzo knows a thing or two about great underdog stories. He wrote the screenplays for Hoosiers and Rudy, two of the most iconic sports films of all time. He knows a good story.
Pizzo, 75, often sees Rudy Ruettiger, who played three snaps in one game for Notre Dame in 1975, wearing Stetson Bennett, the undersized star quarterback for the Georgia Bulldogs.
“He’s like Rudy, he’s got more talent, a lot more talent,” Pizzo said. “It takes a special person. Special faith is required. You have to work through all the logic that says, “You are not like that. Go play Georgia, not Georgia.” He had this faith, he saw and felt things that no one else did.”
On Monday night, about 11 miles from Hollywood, Bennett ended a storied college career that even Pizzo couldn’t write. The former player, who left Georgia for a year to play junior college and then returned when the team needed him, led the #1 Bulldogs to a 65-7 victory over #3 TCU in the National College Football Playoffs. . The championship is presented by AT&T at SoFi Stadium.
Georgia became the fifth team to finish 15–0 and the first to repeat the national title during the CFP era. The Bulldogs are only the fourth player to play in a row since 1990; Nebraska (1994 and 1995), Southern California (2003 and 2004) and Alabama (2011 and 2012) were others.
Bennett, 25, became only the eighth quarterback in the AP poll era to lead his team to back-to-back national titles.
Bennett’s last act was his opus. He completed 18 of 25 passes for 304 yards with four touchdowns and scored two more points. Bennett tied former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in points scored in a CFP title game with 36. According to research by Sportzshala Stats & Information, he is the only player in the past 25 years to have four passing touchdowns and two rushing runs in a game. against a top five opponent.
“The Stetson speaks for itself, the way he leads and prepares,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “His mentality is the same as a quarterback who believes he can make every shot, and what he did tonight was truly amazing. It was probably his best game of his career, in my opinion, with some of the checks he made, with some of the decisions he made, just really elite.”
No one could have guessed that Bennett would take the stage with 13.5 minutes left in the game. With Georgia leading 52-7, Smart took a timeout. Bennett hugged several of his offensive linemen and tight end Brock Bowers before the quarterback moved to the sideline, where Smart gave him another hug.
During a break when the Redcoat marching band played, Georgia fans cheered for Bennett by lighting their cell phones and waving their arms in unison.
“I told all the guys, ‘What are we doing? Why don’t we put on a play?” Bennett said. “I was, like, they let me get out of here.”
It was a fitting tribute to the quarterback who started his college career imitating Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield in bowling practice before the Bulldogs played the Sooners in the 2018 Rose Bowl and ended it with perhaps one of the two or three of the most accomplished players in Georgia football history. .
“Every time there is a conversation, he will be involved in a discussion of who is the best player and quarterback in the history of Georgia,” Buck told Bel, who was the last quarterback before Bennett, who led the Bulldogs to the national title in 1980. “I don’t see anyone else winning back-to-back titles. It’s like a royal flush. Who will surpass him?
A year ago, when the Bulldogs had a historically talented defense with five starters selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, some critics wondered if they won their first national title in 41 years despite their quarterback. Some Georgia fans, whether they admit it now or not, were prepared for Bennett to leave so that younger quarterbacks like Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff would get a chance to play.
On January 12, 2022, two days after two fourth-quarter touchdowns that led Georgia to a 33–18 win over Alabama in the CFP title game, Bennett walked into Smart’s office and told him he was thinking about returning.
“I’m trying to decide if I’m going to come back or go downwind,” Bennett told his coach, according to Smart. “I don’t understand that everyone is telling me that I should just ride off into the sunset [and] Become a legendary defender winning the national title. I’m just not like that. I don’t understand. Why should I do this when I have the opportunity to play again? Why don’t we win it again?”
Smart, who knew the Bulldogs would lose 15 players to the NFL, wasn’t as sure of himself as his quarterback.
“I kind of thought, ‘Well, that would be nice, but we lost 15 draft picks,'” Smart said. “Perhaps this time it won’t be so easy.” But Bennet thought that Georgia would be good enough again. “He had a complete conviction that he wanted to come back and go against the mainstream,” Smart said. “He said, ‘I want to go play. I want to go play football and prove to people that this is not an accident. We can do this”. And he did everything he said he was going to do.”
It was clear this season that Georgia would not have won a second national title without Bennett. He was 7-0 against ranked opponents, throwing 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions. During the regular season, he beat Oregon’s Bo Nicks, Florida’s Anthony Richardson, Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker, and Kentucky’s Will Lewis, all of whom are considered potential NFL quarterbacks.
Bennett threw four touchdowns in the first half of LSU’s 50–30 rout in the SEC championship game. He had two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Ohio State in the CFP Semifinals, including a game-winning pass to Adonai Mitchell with 54 seconds left to bring Georgia back from a 14-point deficit in a 42–41 win.
Ironically, it was the quarterback who got Smart to launch the attack. For his first two seasons, Smart, as coach of his alma mater, built on what he learned in Alabama as defensive coordinator Nick Saban. The Bulldogs controlled the ball and played defensively.
But as they struggled to find much-desired quarterbacks and game-changing wide receivers, Smart changed his philosophy. After the 2019 season, Smart shook up his coaching staff and hired offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who had just been fired from the Cleveland Browns.
“[Smart] I wanted a certain structure, a certain NFL experience,” Monken said. How would you be explosive? Maybe change the story. It’s just that you’re conservative, you don’t want to be explosive. You must get good players; You must get defenders. How do we do it?”
In the end, Monken and Bennett became the perfect partner, but it took time. Bennett only took over the offense after Justin Fields moved to Ohio State, Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman pulled out, and Southern California transfer JT Daniels was injured.
Together, Monken and Bennet committed two of the most massive crimes in Georgia history. That season, Bennett became the Bulldogs’ first 4,000-yard passer. In four CFP contests, he completed 67.8% of his passes for 1,239 yards and 12 touchdowns with one interception, as well as scoring two runs.
“He’s at the top – at the top,” Georgia forward Broderick Jones said when asked where Bennett ranks among the Bulldogs. “Stetson has done so much for this program that it’s just crazy. [the defense] the scout seeks to play in order to throw winning balls. He did his best at the University of Georgia.”
Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey agreed.
“I think he will be the best,” McConkie said. “He won two national championships in a row. He showed himself in every possible way and did so much for this program. I think he should come out on top.”
Less than an hour after the confetti had stopped falling from the ceiling of Sophie Stadium, Smart was asked, first of all, that Bennett was not eligible to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Because he was never named an All-American, Bennett would not receive the highest post-career sports award. He was 29-3 as a starter. He was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player of two CFP Semi-Finals and two CFP National Championships.
“I don’t know about the premise,” Smart said. “I know he got GOAT status in Athens, Georgia for good.”
When Smart walked into his office at SoFi Stadium after Monday night’s game, he found his 10-year-old son Andrew. Thinking someone had hurt his feelings, Smart asked him, “Why are you crying? You’re ruining my moment.”
“Stetson is leaving,” said Smart’s son. “He’s going to go.”
“He’s 25,” Smart said. “He must go. He must leave.”
And now the Bulldogs will have to try to win another national championship without him.