Georgia State (4-4, 3-1 in Sun Belt) overcame being shut out in the first half and being outgained 486 to 378 to notch a 21-14 rivalry win over Georgia Southern (2-6, 1-4 in Sun Belt), taking the lead for good on a game-winning 23-yard Jamyest Williams touchdown run with 26 seconds remaining. The Eagles got one last chance with 2 seconds remaining at the Panthers’ 21-yard-line, but a horde of Panther defenders sacked Justin Tomlin to clinch the win and give Georgia State a 5-3 record all-time against their in-state foe. The win also moves the Panthers to 3-1 in four games at Paulson Stadium.
Tucker Gregg’s second touchdown run of the half gave the Panthers their first lead of the evening, 14-7, with 11:19 to go in the game. Georgia State couldn’t salt the game away and special teams played a key role in getting Georgia Southern back in the game. After a 63-yard Anthony Beck punt backed the Panthers up to their own 9 and the Georgia State offense went three-and-out, Michael Hayes managed just a 29-yard boot which set Georgia Southern up at the GSU 42 with 3:04 to play. They needed just five plays and 1:25 to hit paydirt, tying the game at 14 with 1:39 remaining. But the Panthers responded with a quick drive of their own, taking just 1:06 off the clock to move 73 yards in seven plays, capping off the late win with Williams’ fourth touchdown in the last three games.
Williams’ game-winning run gave him 97 yards on the ground to lead all Panthers. Tucker Gregg added 87 yards and two rushing touchdowns of his own. Darren Grainger had 141 yards passing on 16 of 27 passing and also ran for 31 yards, including two key scrambles on Georgia State’s final drive. On defense, Antavious Lane led all players with 11 tackles.
Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott was quick to highlight this as “certainly a great win for our football program.” He said, “Any time you come to Statesboro, GA and play Georgia Southern, you always know what it’s going to be about,” adding, “It doesn’t matter about records.”
On his mentality when the offense was going to get the ball back with a chance to win, Coach Elliott said, “1:38…is a long time in this day and age of football, and there was no question we had the offensive team to take it down the field and score,” adding, “We weren’t going to play for overtime. We play to win.” He referred back to the team’s 2019 37-34 3OT loss to Texas State, saying that in that case he “left it on the 1-yard-line and went to overtime” and that he “wasn’t going to taste that sour taste again.”
And even as he described the moments leading up to Jhi’Shawn Taylor’s game-clinching sack as “the longest two seconds of [his] life”, Coach Elliott praised the defensive front for pressuring the opposing QB on that last do-or-die play, saying they did “a marvelous job.” He also remarked that it was “a fitting way to end the football game”, given the defense’s performance throughout.
The Eagles controlled both phases in the first quarter, out-gaining Georgia State 132 to 58 in the game’s first 15 minutes. The Panthers defense kept it scoreless in the period with a Blake Carroll interception inside the 20 on Southern’s second drive of the game and by forcing a turnover on downs inside the 5 on the next drive. Javon Denis met QB Justin Tomlin in the backfield for a loss of 4 on 4th-and-1 to ensure the Eagles came up empty on their first red zone trip. But the drought didn’t last. Taking back possession after a Georgia State possession stalled out in GS territory, Tomlin hit an open Khaleb Hood downfield for a 46-yard gain to set Southern up in the red zone and a 17-yard touchdown catch by Beau Johnson on the next play gave them a 7-0 lead with 5:23 to go in the 2nd quarter. Georgia Southern entered the game last in the Sun Belt with 125 passing yards a game but exceeded that total in the first half alone with 171, winning the total yards battle 264-115 over the first 30 minutes as well.
It could have gotten worse in a hurry for Georgia State in the second half when they went three-and-out out of the locker room and Georgia Southern promptly took it into Panthers territory on their first offensive play with a 34-yard Logan Wright run. But when Chris Moore made a great read and got Georgia State’s second interception from inside their own red zone and returned to the 31, the Panthers had a lifeline. The Georgia State offense took advantage of the opportunity and tied the game on a 2-yard Tucker Gregg touchdown run with 8:06 left in the 3rd quarter. A Roger Carter 29-yard catch on the previous play set the Panthers up in the goal-to-go situation. The defense then stepped up again when it counted, backed up in their own territory, when an Antavious Lane pass breakup on 4th-and-2 turned the Eagles over on downs at the GSU 41.
On the turnaround in the second half, Coach Elliott said, “We were really fortunate, really fortunate, because in the first half, we weren’t moving the ball effectively there offensively and our defense was playing lights outs. [Georgia Southern] had yardage but they only had 7 points, so we were within striking distance.” He said that at halftime, the team “didn’t bellyache or complain” saying, “It was just, ‘Hey, let’s go out there and do what we do, and get offensively on track.’”
There’s little time to celebrate a third straight win for Georgia State, as they head right back on the road to face Louisiana next Thursday night at 7:30pm Eastern. The action from Cajun Field can be seen nationally on ESPN.