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Student pair wins SEC Championship tickets in cornhole tournament – The Crimson White

Five hours before Alabama and Georgia clashed in one of the most memorable SEC Football Championships to date, another intense battle between the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs was brewing just a stone’s throw from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Standing in the Georgia World Congress Center, donning a white jersey emblazoned with a can’t-miss Johnsonville logo, was Jim Weiss. He was doing something he never imagined: competing in the Southern Cornhole Championships live on ESPNU. Weiss and his partner, Matt Nutley, tossed crimson-colored bags back and forth, trying to land Alabama its first victory of the day over Georgia.

The pair said that what had started as a last-ditch effort to get an SEC Championship ticket had turned into one of the most bizarre, yet awesome, experiences of their lives.

On Nov. 16, Weiss received an email from The University of Alabama delivering bad news – he hadn’t received a ticket for the SEC Championship game. The problem? Weiss, a junior studying chemical engineering, didn’t have enough UA credit hours since he came to Tuscaloosa with a bevy of AP credits and had studied abroad for a semester.

Two days after Weiss was notified that he wouldn’t get a ticket, he received a glimmer of hope in the form of an email from the American Cornhole League. The ACL was calling for Alabama students to compete in a qualifier tournament to be hosted at the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity house, which Weiss and Nutley are members of. The top seven teams would be rewarded handsomely.

“If you won the qualifier and were one of the top seven teams to go, you got an SEC Championship ticket and two-night stay in a hotel,” Weiss said. “I only had 50 UA hours so I didn’t get an SEC Championship ticket, so I figured I’d go off and see if I could get one this way.”

Before entering the tournament, Weiss had a reputation as a cornhole player, but it wasn’t a good one. His friends back home in the suburbs of west Chicago wouldn’t even play with him. Nutley, a graduate engineering student pursuing an MBA in business, jokes that he only agreed to partner up with him because another one of their friends was out of town.

“A woman interviewed us after the competition, and I said, ‘I’m not that great at bags – like, my friends back home won’t play with me,’” Weiss said. “And she asked my partner Matt why he chose me. She was like, ‘Oh, you must think he’s pretty good at bags?’ But Matt, on national television, said, ‘Actually, I didn’t want to be partners with Jim. My first choice wasn’t here, so I had to choose Jim.’”

Weiss and Nutley’s attempt to get a ticket was nearly derailed from the start. The duo lost its first match in the qualifying tournament, blowing a big lead. Fortunately, the tournament was double elimination. Then the two caught fire, winning the rest of their matches en route to finishing fourth.

Weiss earned an SEC Championship ticket, but there was still more to gain at the actual Southern Cornhole Championships.

The seven Alabama teams would square off against seven teams from Georgia on Saturday morning, with each game being given a dollar amount, starting with $4,000 for the No. 1 teams. Weiss and Nutley’s game was for $1,000. The amount of money that Alabama’s team accrued would be divided among its 14 players.


Similar to the way Georgia’s football team dominated Alabama for the first part of the SEC Championship, the Bulldogs cornhole teams started the competition with convincing wins over the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s seventh-, sixth- and fifth-seeded teams lost by big margins. Then it was Weiss and Nutley’s turn.

Even though his cornhole abilities have been questioned, mocked and even dismissed in the past, Weiss stepped up when it counted. He and Nutley made quick work of their opponents, securing Alabama’s first win of the day.

“It’s a big focus game for me at least,” Weis said. “Usually when I play it’s at a barbecue, so like drink in hand, maybe eating some food, not too worried about it. When the money got on the line, it got kind of serious.”

Unlike the way Alabama’s football team mounted a comeback against Georgia, an underdog story wasn’t in the cards for the Crimson Tide’s cornhole team. The Bulldogs claimed a 4-3 victory, but Alabama’s players still came away with over $9,000 in scholarship money – and, of course, the real prize: an SEC Championship ticket.

Since Georgia’s top-seeded team defeated Alabama, they got a crack against two professional players. As the Crimson Tide’s team watched them try to pull the upset, the rivalry faded away, according to Justin Kelley.

“We were all cheering for Georgia, so we got closer to them that way,” Kelley, a junior studying chemical engineering, said.

Although Georgia was given an 11-0 lead, the Bulldogs could not conquer the pros. And, now that cornhole was over, the real game was set to begin.

“I was definitely more nervous for the game. Not the cornhole game, the football game,” Nutley said. “I can get over myself for losing a random cornhole event, but losing to Georgia in the SEC Championship would suck for a lot longer.”

While their attention was on the football game and Alabama’s classic fourth-quarter comeback, Weiss and Nutley were also fielding confused text messages from friends in Tuscaloosa and back home.

“Two friends from high school texted me, and they were both along the lines of, ‘Matt Nutley, why are you in a cornhole championship? I need answers,’” Nutley said. “I just responded to both of them with a picture of Jim and I holding the scholarship check that Johnsonville had provided and was like, ‘Oh, I’m a professional cornhole player.’”

Alabama’s thrilling 35-28 win was the perfect ending to the weekend for the boys.

“It was super weird, but it was definitely one of the more fun experiences that I’ve ever had,” Weiss said. “I’ll remember it forever because it was just a wild weekend with a great group of guys. We made some money, saw some good football, stayed in a hotel, and it was all free. It was pretty darn sweet.”

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