Before then, many Bulldog fans were probably thinking Mason’s time behind center should end before it had a chance to begin.
“I’m sure they were,” said the former Lassiter star, who completed 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his first college start. “I didn’t play very well in the first half. But all we needed was that one touchdown.”
That one touchdown came after Mason entered the huddle down 20-0, just looking for an opportunity to make something happen.
What happened was he started trusting his teammates as much as they trusted him. What it led to was seven straight scoring drives and a 41-34 victory over Georgia Tech in double overtime. It also brought to an end a very long week for the redshirt junior from east Cobb.
After Aaron Murray suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Kentucky last week, Mason was thrust into the role of starting quarterback. For the first time since arriving in Athens in the spring of 2010, he was “The Guy.”
Now, it was Mason doing all the interview requests, taking all the reps in practice. And now, all the eyes of Bulldog Nation were on him. Considering it had been more than four years since he started a game, the week proved to be all he could handle.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Mason said. “I didn’t sleep well all week. I wasn’t getting to bed until 1 or 2 a.m. Last night, I went to bed at 9:30 p.m. just to make sure I got some rest.”
It looked like Mason had gotten plenty of sleep during pregame warmups. Every throw was on target and he hit his receivers between the numbers.
But it didn’t translate to the game.
Mason chalked that up to first-start jitters, and his angst with watching Georgia Tech continue to pick up key third downs to keep the clock running.
“Getting down 20-0 against that offense — every time they pick up a first down, it’s 5 minutes they take off the clock.”
Former Georgia All-American and Marietta High quarterback Eric Zeier said earlier this week that it would take two drives for the nerves to subside. It actually took four, but when Mason got in the huddle with 1:43 to play before halftime, he finally settled down. And when he did, Mason looked like the record-setting quarterback he was at Lassiter, and the SEC quarterback he always wanted to be.
Mason started the drive with a 13-yard completion to running back Todd Gurley. He followed with 17- and 22-yarders to wide receiver Chris Conley, and a 10-yarder to J.J. Green out of the backfield. Four straight completions moved the ball from the Georgia 14 to the Tech 24 with 42 seconds left.
After Mason tucked the ball and went around the left side for 16 yards on a scramble, he calmly hit Gurley for a 10-yard touchdown.
Seven plays, 86 yards, and Georgia was back in the game.
Before that drive, Mason was 4-of-8 for 44 yards and the interception. After, he went 18-of-28 for 254 yards, two touchdowns, and he completed every must-have throw he attempted.
On the first drive of the second half, he completed a back-shoulder throw to tight end Arthur Lynch for a 30-yard gain on third-and-10. It helped set up a field goal.
A 33-yarder over the middle to Conley on the next drive led to a touchdown and pulled Georgia within 20-17.
Mason said that was his biggest throw of the game to that point.
“If he doesn’t make that catch, we may not win,” Mason said of his target, Conley.
It was definitely true the next time the Bulldogs got the ball. Trailing 27-17, Mason found himself faced with fourth-and-6 from his own 39.
With his poor start to the game now a distant memory, Mason connected with Michael Bennett for 11 yards and a first down.
“It was good for Hutson,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He was patient, and I think the guys trust him. This win is going to help settle him down. When he looks back at the film, he’s going to see some things he’ll think he should have done differently, but it gives you an idea of what could happen in the future.”
The only thing missing from Mason’s second-half performance was the game-winning touchdown pass, but that was only because he didn’t get a chance to throw one.
In overtime, Mason told the offensive line that Gurley was set to break loose.
“Let’s just get a hat on somebody,” he said.
It took four running plays in overtime for Gurley to run 50 yards and score two touchdowns. The second — on the first play of the second overtime — was one where Mason may have wished he kept the ball himself.
“My grandma with a cane could have run through that hole,” Mason said.
Georgia Tech still had a chance to force a third overtime, but after the Yellow Jackets' final pass hit the ground, and Mason knew Georgia had won the game, he took a moment for himself. He wasn’t among the many Bulldogs that rushed the field, but it didn’t take long for the emotion to come to the front.
After a few high-fives and hugs with teammates and coaches, Mason climbed to the top of the Redcoat bandleader’s platform and looked for his parents in the crowd. He never found them, but what he did see was Bulldog Nation staring back at him, and he liked what he saw.
“This is what it’s all about,” Mason said. “All those times when I thought about transferring and sitting and talking with coach Richt — this game, this is the type of game I dreamed of. This was the kind of game I dreamed about being part of. I’m so thankful for this opportunity, and I’m just glad to be a Bulldog.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs were happy he was, too.
John Bednarowski is sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @jbednarowski.