Panthers Fold in Second Half, Lose Sun Belt Opener to App State

Noel Ruiz kicks a field goal in the Panthers 20-9 win over the Charlotte 49ers. Photo by Jordan Crawford of THERSday

Georgia State (1-4, 0-1 in Sun Belt) hung around into the 3rd quarter against Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 in Sun Belt), but offensive mistakes and defensive lapses doomed the Panthers to a 45-16 loss to open conference play. The Mountaineers led 14-6 at halftime, but Georgia State was able to cut it back to a five-point game with a Noel Ruiz 22-yard field goal (his third make of the afternoon) with 8:22 left in the 3rd quarter. But on the next offensive play from scrimmage, App State QB Chase Brice connected with WR Corey Sutton for a 79-yard bomb of a touchdown, and that was the springboard the Mountaineers needed to take control of the game. They rattled off 24 additional unanswered points from there – adding a field goal and scoring touchdowns on plays of 80, 5 and 22 yards – and turned a once-close game into a drubbing. Tailique Williams scored his first career touchdown on a 66-yard pitch-and-catch from Darren Grainger late in the 4th quarter, but it was no consolation for a Georgia State team off to their worst start since 2015.

In a relief spell at quarterback, Quad Brown was 16-31 for 171 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Darren Grainger, who started and finished the game at quarterback, finished 4-6 for 75 yards with a touchdown and an interception and -1 yards rushing. In a shake-up on the Georgia State offensive line, Avery Reece made his first career start at center and Malik Sumter slid over to left guard, replacing super-senior Shamarious Gilmore in the first half. Gilmore returned to his starting spot to begin the 3rd quarter. On the defensive side, the Panthers held App State below their season averages with just 163 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per carry. LB Jordan Veneziale led the team with 10 tackles and added a sack as well.

For App State, QB Chase Brice was 20-28 for 326 yards and three passing TDs before leaving late in the 3rd quarter with an injury after turning into a wide receiver for a play on a end-around pass. Nate Noel led the Mountaineers with 74 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, his first of 2021. Corey Sutton paced App State’s receivers with 106 yards, 79 of those on his touchdown catch.

Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott expressed disappointment in the lopsided result, saying, “Certainly not the effort we wanted to go out and play with today. It was pretty doggone evident in the score and in the loss.” He went on, “There in the second half, [Appalachian State] did a really good job of wanting it much more than we did.”

Coach Elliott praised the work of the defense for much of the game, saying they played “really well right through the 3rd quarter”, keeping the team “right there within striking distance”. He went on, “[App’s] run game was in check, [App’s] throw game was in check other than hitting that long pass [to Corey Sutton for a 79-yard score]. I was proud of our defense and I’m still proud of our defense. I’m not proud of how we finished the game defensively, offensively, or anything for that matter, but, yeah, I was pleased. They were giving us opportunities to get the ball back, and ultimately, offensively, we could not do that.”

The game couldn’t have started worse for Georgia State. App State cornerback Shaun Jolly went up and ripped away a 50-50 ball from Sam Pinckney on the second play from scrimmage for an interception that set the Mountaineers up at their 41. The App State offense made that turnover count and found the end zone first via a Nate Noel 23-yard rushing touchdown with 12:20 left in the 1st quarter. And after another offensive drive under the direction of Darren Grainger went nowhere, Coach Elliott made the decision to return to Quad Brown at quarterback. Grainger had supplanted Brown as starter in the previous two games.

A shaky first few series for the defense made it appear things would get out of hand fast in Center Parc Stadium, but when Thomas Hennigan dropped a Chase Brice catch over the middle on 4th-and-3 that would have extended the Mountaineers’ drive, Georgia State took over at their 41-yard-line. After mustering a single first down on Brown’s first drive in control of the offense, the Panthers offense did one better after the turnover on downs and got on the scoreboard with a 22-yard Noel Ruiz field goal after a 12-play, 54-yard drive. Brown was 4-5 passing on the drive for 55 yards on the scoring drive.

The defenses traded stops and the Panthers looked primed to force their second straight three-and-out in the 2nd quarter when Brice escaped pressure on a 3rd-and-11 and connected with an open Thomas Hennigan for 14 yards and a first down. Six plays later, instead of getting off the field, the defense watched as Brice found Malik Williams open in the end zone for a 33-yard TD pass to give Appalachian State a 14-3 lead with 6:08 to go in the half. The Georgia State offense used quick passing to move down the field and matched scoring drive for scoring drive. But unfortunately for them, they also matched the result of their previous red zone trip and had to settle for a 31-yard Ruiz field goal that made it an eight-point App State lead heading into the half.

On the decision to have Quad Brown replace Darren Grainger at quarterback early on, Coach Elliott said both Brown and Grainger were aware of the plan to alternate. He said the thought process was that the coaching staff “went in knowing [they] were going to play them both.” He said, “We thought we had to get our throwing game going a little bit. We thought at that point we weren’t sitting there running the football on Appalachian State, and we haven’t been able to do that in the past very well…and we felt like we would have to throw it more in the contest to move the football a little bit.”

Georgia State have now lost each of the eight times they have played Appalachian State in their short history. The Panthers now get ready for their first Sun Belt road contest of 2021 when they head to Monroe next Saturday to face ULM. Kickoff at Malone Stadium is at 8pm Eastern and the action will be broadcast on ESPN3.

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