Panthers Close Out Historic Regular Season With Lopsided Senior Day Win

A host of Panthers including Hardrick Willis and Antavious Lane chase after a Georgia Southern ball carrier. Photo: Jordan Crawford for

Georgia State came into their 2021 finale against Troy with a chance to set all-time program highs in regular season wins and conference wins and they did so emphatically, running away with a 37-10 victory to improve to 7-5 on the season and 6-2 in Sun Belt play. The loss drops Troy, playing under interim head coach Brandon Hall after the firing of Chip Lindsey earlier this week, to 5-7 on the season and consigns them to another season without a bowl appearance, last playing in postseason football in 2018. 

The Panthers only outgained Troy 387-344 and managed to convert just 2 of 11 3rd down attempts, but they were clinical off of Trojan mistakes, scoring 17 points off over 4 Troy turnovers. The defense came up with 5 sacks – all in a dominant 3rd quarter – and held Troy to just 57 rushing yards, a week after limiting Arkansas State to a program-best -3 yards on the ground. And on a Senior Day when 18 Panthers were honored, it was the seniors who shined. Aubry Payne and Jamyest Williams each found the end zone, Chris Moore forced a fumble and Blake Carroll forced and recovered a fumble. Kicker Noel Ruiz was also a perfect 3-3 on field goals.

Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott said he was wary coming into the game because of the coaching change Troy had undergone, saying, “More so than you worry about schemes and all that stuff, you kind of worry about where their mindset is and how they’re playing.” But he praised the approach and effort of his team, saying, “Our guys had the right mindset to offset anything [Troy] came out there with.” He went on, “We came out and played very well.”

On Senior Day, Coach Elliott had a lot of praise for his seniors and their role in helping lead the team to six wins in the the final seven games after a 1-4 start, saying, “It was a tough season early on, but we could see the growth, and our seniors, they stood strong – and they’ve always done that.” Coach Elliott continued his praise for the upperclassmen – and specifically the super-seniors who were part of this staff’s first recruiting class – for their mentality and their time setting the foundations for the program to have the successes they have. He said, “It really has nothing to do with myself or our coaches…but it has everything to do about our players.” He added, “They chose to be different, and when you choose to do things differently, you ultimately see results from it.”

The Panthers added to a 17-3 halftime lead with a 45-yard Ruiz field goal on the opening drive of the quarter, and the pile on only started there. The Georgia State defense compiled five sacks in just the 3rd quarter alone, and one of them was a strip-sack by Blake Carroll which Jamil Muhammad picked up and returned for a 72-yard touchdown that made it a 27-3 Panthers lead with 7:40 remaining in the quarter. 

Two sacks by Muhammad in the space of three plays on the next drive for the Trojans turned a 1st-and-goal at the 10-yard-line into 4th-and-goal at the 28, and Brooks Buce’s field goal bounced off the left upright to leave Troy point-less from a once-promising red zone trip. Another Ruiz field goal, this one a 50-yarder (his longest as a Georgia State player), gave the Panthers a 30-3 lead late in the 3rd quarter. They soon added on when Bryquice Brown intercepted Gunnar Watson in GSU territory and Jamyest Williams made the turnover count with a 50-yard rushing touchdown that ballooned the lead all the way to 37-3 with 13:15 remaining in the game. Troy found the end zone for the first time in the game on a 2-yard BJ Smith TD run with 7:06 to go, but the result was well beyond doubt by then.

Jamil Muhammad’s 2 sacks gave him a single-game high for his career and his fumble return for a touchdown was both his first career touchdown and the first touchdown for the Panthers’ defensive unit this season. Jamil called his stellar game today “hard work coming into fruition,” before being sure to give credit to his team-mates for the work they did in making those plays happen.

It was another day where Jamyest Williams and Tucker Gregg shared the spoils in the backfield, rushing for 108 and 83 yards respectively. The Panthers ran for 247 yards as a team, averaging 5.4 a carry. Darren Grainger made the throws he had to to keep the defense honest, finishing 11-of-22 for 140 yards and 2 passing touchdowns. And it was a big day for Sam Pinckney. The junior WR from Greenwood, SC has been working back from a hamstring injury most of the season, but he led the team today with 51 receiving yards on 3 catches and scored his first touchdown of 2021.

Pinckney admitted this season had been “pretty tough” but said his aim through all the process was “continuing to stay positive each and every day and just taking it one day at a time.” On his touchdown, he joked that if he had bigger feet, he probably wouldn’t have been able to stay in bounds for the score – a play where he had to drag his left foot to establish possession. But he said, “It was good to be back in the end zone.”

On their second drive of the afternoon, the Panthers dented the scoreboard first when Aubry Payne marked his Senior Day with a 13-yard touchdown catch that made it 7-0 Georgia State with 7:52 to go in the 1st quarter. A muffed punt by Qua White gave Troy excellent field position at the GSU 27, but on the very first play of the Trojans’ drive, safety Chris Moore jarred the ball loose from Tez Johnson and inside linebacker Blake Carroll scooped it up and returned it 20 yards to the 47-yard-line. The Panthers drove all the way into the red zone but couldn’t make the turnover count when Darren Grainger fumbled inside the 5 and Javon Solomon recovered it for Troy in the end zone for a touchback. But after the Georgia State defense answered with their third three-and-out forced in Troy’s first five drives, the Panthers took a two-score lead when Grainger dropped a pass in perfectly for Sam Pinckney at the front corner of the end zone for the 26-yard touchdown catch.

Another turnover stunted a promising Troy drive when safety Antavious Lane jumped the route of Gunnar Watson’s intended receiver to snag an interception at the GSU 36-yard-line. That interception gives Lane, a sophomore from West Palm Beach, FL, 8 INTs for his career, which is the new career mark at Georgia State. An offense finally scored points off a takeaway after this, the fourth combined turnover of the first half, when Noel Ruiz hit a 43-yard field goal to give Georgia State a 17-0 lead with 2:46 to go in the half. Brooks Buce matched Ruiz’s kick with a 48-yard make of his own to put Troy on the board with 34 seconds to go in the 2nd quarter, but the Panthers still held a multi-score lead at the break.

The Panthers finish their 2021 regular season at 7-5. Today’s win gives them a 4-2 record at Center Parc Stadium for the year. They await the announcement of their bowl destination, expected on December 5. Keep it locked to for coverage of Georgia State’s postseason play.

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