Up and down for much of the game, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett saved his best for last.

With his team down 11 points with nine minutes remaining, Bennett directed the Bulldogs to touchdowns on back-to-back possessions that lifted No. 1 Georgia to a 42-41 win over No. 4 Ohio State in an unforgettable Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Saturday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

In the final minutes of their College Football Playoff semifinal, in which the Bulldogs had squandered scoring chances, suffered from injuries to starters and often appeared to have cost themselves a chance to play for a second consecutive national championship, Bennett led a comeback from a 38-24 deficit early in the fourth quarter by directing three drives that produced 18 points and survived the Buckeyes’ last-second failed field-goal try from 50 yards to secure victory for Georgia.

Bennett, a former walk-on whose journey at Georgia is a story that needs little embellishment, added a most memorable chapter in front of a capacity crowd hanging on every momentum change.

Down 38-27 with 8:51 to play in the fourth quarter, Bennett connected with receiver Arian Smith on a 76-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive and then hit receiver Ladd McConkey on the two-point try that cut the lead to 38-35. It was the third catch of the game but only the sixth of the season for Smith, who ran a double move that caused safety Lathan Ransom to lose his footing.

“That one was just run fast, and he did, and he made the dude fall,” Bennett said. “Dude can do things that people can’t do. He can run like people can’t run, and he can go get the ball.”

After Noah Ruggles’ field goal with 2:43 left nudged Ohio State’s lead back to 41-35, the stage was set for the Bulldogs either to claim glory and keep their national-title quest alive or to see their season end with their first defeat since the SEC Championship game in December 2021.

Huddled before the start of the series, the Bulldogs were fully aware of the stakes. Bennett said that he didn’t necesssarily remember what words were said.

“But just looking at everybody and saying, ‘All right, hey, we haven’t played our best, and we haven’t done our jobs to the best of our ability, but we’re here now. It’s in our hands now,’” Bennett said. “‘Defense stood up whenever we needed them to. Where else would you rather be? Having the ball with two minutes left, and if you score a touchdown, you win the game.’

“I looked around, and there was just a whole bunch of just determined, strong stares from all the dudes,” he continued. “It gave me confidence, and everybody else had confidence when we went down the field.”

That Georgia was in a position to rescue the game was a bit of fortune. By the Bulldogs’ own acknowledgement, they had not played their best. Bennett himself had started out hot, completing nine of his first 10 passes to seven targets, but was off of his game after that. His 11th throw, a second-quarter interception from the Georgia 25-yard line, set up an Ohio State touchdown for a 21-7 lead. Coming out of halftime down 28-24, the Bulldogs gained one first down in their first three possessions of the second half, the last of which started at the Ohio State 32 and produced only a field-goal try that Jack Podlesny missed from 50 yards, his second miss of the game.

It appeared the door was closing on Georgia on its fourth drive of the second half, which at first appeared over when a Bennett pass to tight end Brock Bowers on a fourth-and-6 from the Ohio State 13 was judged short of the marker, giving the ball back to Ohio State.

“I thought the whole stadium thought we didn’t get it, and then they reviewed it,” Bennett said. “Brock was pretty dumbfounded because he was like, ‘I think I got it.’”

Bennett was likeminded. And even when the replay review gave the Bulldogs a first down and new life, Bennett botched the opportunity when he short-armed a lateral to wide receiver Ladd McConkey that fell to the ground, requiring McConkey to dive on the ball to retain possession and resulting in a 10-yard loss.

“Stupid,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s third-and-goal pass into the end zone from the 13 to McConkey was incomplete into heavy coverage, resulting in Georgia settling for a Podlesny 31-yard field goal that kept Ohio State’s lead at two scores, 38-27.

“We didn’t play our best game, starting with me,” Bennett said.

It was perhaps with that recognition of their serendipitous position that the Bulldogs steeled themselves for their game-winning drive. Starting at their 28-yard line with 2:36 left in the game, Bennett and the Bulldogs got to work. On the second play of the drive, he threw a dart on second-and-8 from the Georgia 30 to Bowers for a 15-yard gain. On a first-and-5 from midfield, he found Kearis Jackson down the seam for a 35-yard gain.

Bennett finished the drive by threading a 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Adonai Mitchell with 54 seconds remaining. The score and Podlesny’s point-after kick gave Georgia its 42-41 lead.

On the play, Mitchell released to the inside before bending his route to the sideline, giving Bennett room for a delivery that electrified Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

On the two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, including the two-point conversion play, Bennett was 7-for-7 passing for 146 yards, two touchdowns and the two-point conversion, using six different targets.

“It’s the same thing with everything,” Bennett said. “The more you do it, the more comfortable you get. We rep a lot of two minutes. We know what calls we’re going to do. We’ve got players who study the game plan. So it’s less so confidence in what I can do. I know that they’re going to be where they’re going to be and they’re going to win their matchups. So all I’ve got to do is give them the ball.”

Bennett finished the game 23-for-34 passing for a career-high 398 yards, three touchdowns and the lone interception. More than the numbers, what will probably linger far longer in the memory of Bennett, his teammates and Georgia fans everywhere is the feeling. At the post-game news conference, Bennett was asked if he had ever played in a game like Saturday night’s.

“That game was, that was a good game,” he said. “I’m looking at these stats right here, and they’re pretty much dead even across the board. No, that was special.”

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