ATHENS -- Hutson Mason sat down, wiped his face with a towel and looked up at reporters to answer questions, only to reveal a puffy red face and a disappointing scratch in his voice.
With 18 seconds remaining in regulation, it looked as if Georgia’s starting quarterback would have a dream ending to his final home game in Sanford Stadium. He completed a touchdown pass to wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on fourth down to take the lead. But a desperation field goal as time expired kept the game alive for the Yellow Jackets, sending the already-bizarre contest into overtime.
In an instant, it was another Mason pass intended for Mitchell, with a much different result, that left the lasting image on Mason’s final regular-season game.
“It’s a sucky way to end your career,” Mason said. “You go from maybe the greatest storybook ending in your career to one of the worst ways to end your career.”
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For 60 minutes, Mason had been as efficient as ever. In regulation, he completed 17 of his 26 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown -- no big plays, but no mistakes. He took that confidence into overtime, connecting with wide receiver Chris Conley for a 10-yard completion down to the 10-yard line.
Two plays later, Mason took a snap that would ultimately be the final one of his regular-season career. The play call was a run-pass option. Mason read the weak-side linebacker, who bit inside on the run, so Mason did what he has done in that situation many times before: He slung it to the slant route.
“Right before the snap, I was thinking, if Malcolm wins here, this might be a touchdown,” Mason said.
Instead, Georgia Tech defensive back D.J. White beat Mitchell for position, and Mason -- who, barring bowl game results, might become Georgia’s most efficient single-season passer in program history -- ended with a rare inefficiency, an interception and a 30-24 overtime loss to Georgia Tech.
“I don’t know if the guy made a good play, but I was just trusting that Malcolm was going to be in there. I let it rip, and the guy obviously made a play,” Mason said. “I bet when I go back and watch it that it was probably one of those balls that I could’ve played to live another down.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo might agree. While he didn’t meet with media after the game, he walked out of the press box where he calls plays from the coaches’ box. He caught a glimpse of a television showing the replay of the final play of the game. Bobo froze to watch it transpire again. He then offered an unsatisfied reaction.
“Hand the ball off,” he said, adding some colorful language, suggesting Mason should’ve utilized the play’s run option.
Surely it wasn’t a personal shot at his senior quarterback, merely a few words of immediate frustration following a roller coaster performance in which Georgia left too many points on the board.
But like Bobo, many others will remember that throw much more than the 18 completions before it, or the gutsy fourth-down touchdown with 18 seconds to go in regulation.
“I just feel bad for Hutson because (the touchdown) should’ve been (the final pass of his regular-season career),” head coach Mark Richt said. “It should’ve been.”
Said offensive lineman David Andrews, “I just hope people don’t have this nasty taste in their mouth about Hutson Mason, because the kid loves the Bulldogs and fought very hard for this team.”
After the game, wide receiver Jonathon Rumph adamantly voiced that “one play can’t define the whole game.” And in a contest as confusingly up-and-down as this one was, his words ring true.
For Mason, however, that mindset won’t be as easy to find.
“The only thing you’re going to remember for the rest of your life is that you threw a pick and lost to Tech,” Mason said, “so everything else is meaningless.”