Opelika, Ala.--It has been a long time coming for 2017 four-star quarterback JakeBentley, but he’s finally the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs and the results have been as good as expected. Picking up a win over Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the season opener on the road when Bentley threw for 194 yards and a pair of scores, Opelika faced off against rival Auburn on Friday night and it was the coming out party for the talented junior.
Completing 12-24 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, Bentley added 86 yards rushing and also contributed a 65-yard punt. Those numbers helped the Bulldogs to a huge 31-30 victory against a very solid Auburn team and gave Bentley a feel for what the rivalry was all about.
“Special is probably the only word that comes to my mind right now,” Bentley said. “Obviously I didn’t grow up here and haven’t been around the rivalry as much, but I know how much it means to our guys. It meant a lot to me too, but for Josh (Josh Johnson and the seniors I knew how much they wanted to win this game. Just to come out and do that was huge.”
It wouldn’t have been possible without the play of Bentley. Carrying the load offensively until late when Johnson found his groove on the ground, Bentley overcame what could have been a devastating turnover early in the fourth quarter.
Leading by six and with the ball the Bulldogs had first and goal before a mix-up in the backfield left Bentley with the ball in his hands. Trying to throw it away he instead lofted it directly to an Auburn defender. The Tigers went on to score on and take the lead before setting the stage for Bentley and the Bulldogs to win it late.
“That last two minutes of the game was just wild,” Bentley said. “I threw the interception and when I came to the sidelines the whole team just said ‘we’ve got your back so keep your head up’. The whole night we had been running that play and we’ve got a few options off it. Nobody was covering our inside receiver J.D. Worth. I just had complete trust that he was going to catch it so I laid it up for him. When I saw him catch it there was relief, happiness, all kinds of emotion just came over me.”
To answer after throwing an interception in the red zone would be tough in any situation, but for Bentley and the Bulldogs the drama was just starting. Following a pass interference call on third down that gave Opelika a first down just over five minutes left in the game, an altercation broke out in the stands and sent everyone running for cover on the field and with the spectators as well. While the threat was a false alarm it took nearly 10 minutes to get settled back in and playing football. Opelika Coach Brian Blackmon said when his offense got back on the field there was no question Bentley was focused on the task at hand.
“The big thing we saw is that he’s able to rally and regroup after making a mistake,” Blackmon said. “He’s still a kid and he’s a junior and he’s going to make mistakes. He made a mistake down there in the red zone, but the very next drive he was just perfect for us. He’s a leader. He’s the guy we need back there. Our kids believe in him. He’s able to do what we ask him to do offensively. I’m really proud of him.”
It was a huge step for the talented quarterback that is now gaining some valuable experience. Sitting first behind his brother Shuler Bentley, who is now the starter at Old Dominion, and then last year behind Matthew Christian (Murray State), Bentley is finally doing what he was born to do and he can’t wait for more.
“It’s awesome,” Bentley said. “It’s what I have grown up doing. I’ve had some setbacks and had to wait so it just feels good to get out there and just play. You grow up playing backyard football so just to come out and play the game you love is just great.”
Already with several big offers including Auburn and Miami, Bentley said both Florida State and Georgia told him they would get back with him early in the season to let him know if he would be getting an offer.
It’s no surprise that Bentley plans to be in the Georgia Dome on Saturday when Auburn takes on Louisville to open the 2015 season. With his father on Auburn’s staff as an offensive analyst Bentley has had plenty of chances to see the Tigers and also get a feel for the coaches and team. Because of that even with Lowell Narcisse committed in the 2017 class to Auburn already Bentley said it hasn’t stopped him from continuing to talk to the Tigers.
“Coach (Rhett) Lashlee said that as long as he’s there I’ll have a spot and if he were to go somewhere or whatever I would always have a spot with him,” Bentley said. “They stay in touch throughout the whole week wishing me good luck and everything. I still stay in touch.”
Bentley and the Bulldogs take on Benjamin Russell on Friday night before the talented prospect makes the trip to Atlanta on Saturday to watch Auburn face Louisville in the season opener.