Georgia State (4-5, 3-2 in Sun Belt) got out to a double-digit lead in the 3rd quarter but couldn’t hold it, getting outscored 14-7 in the 4th quarter to drop a 21-17 to Louisiana (8-1, 6-0 in Sun Belt). The Panthers couldn’t make a 10-0 lead in the 3rd quarter stand up, as Louisiana found the end zone on two consecutive drives to take the lead. When Montrell Johnson punched it in from 3 yards out with 13:11 remaining, it gave the Cajuns their first lead of the night. Georgia State responded with a 16-play (all runs) drive that took 7:46 off the clock and gave them the lead back on a 1-yard Tucker Gregg touchdown run with 5:35 to go. But the Panthers defense, which had stood firm all night, relented another go-ahead touchdown to Johnson, this time from 13 yards out. And when Darren Grainger’s 4th-and-10 pass to Sam Pinckney at the UL 48 fell incomplete with 1:25 left in the game, the Cajuns avoided the upset bid. The win clinched Louisiana’s fourth straight Sun Belt West division title. They’re the only team to have represented the West in the Sun Belt title game since the move to divisions in 2018.
Georgia State were led on the ground once more by the two-headed monster of Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams, who tallied 99 and 82 yards rushing respectively. Darren Grainger had a rough night passing the ball, finished 8-of-19 for 98 yards and a passing touchdown. TE Roger Carter caught three of those passes for 76 yards and a score. Louisiana outgained the Panthers 430 to 307, 287 of that coming through the air from senior QB Levi Lewis. WR Peter LeBlanc was all over the field, finishing with 9 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott called it “[a] tough loss, a tough, hard-fought game,” and said that, in the end, “Offensively, defensively and then on special teams, [the team] just didn’t make the plays to pull out the victory tonight against a good football team.”
Coach Elliott said, “We had every opportunity to succeed and make the plays, and it just didn’t work, it just didn’t happen tonight.” He went on, “And it’s disappointing because our football team prepares hard, our coaches work and our players play hard,” before congratulating Louisiana for making “the plays they needed to win this thing.”
The Cajuns came out with a statement of intent on the first play of scrimmage with a 35-yard LeBlanc reception that immediately had them knocking on the door. But despite driving inside the Georgia State 10-yard-line, they came up empty when Levi Lewis was forced to throw the ball away out of the back of the end zone on 4th-and-4 at the 8. A 24-yard Roger Carter reception moved the Panthers into Louisiana territory on the following drive, and though their momentum was stunted just outside the red zone, kicker Noel Ruiz connected on a 39-yard field goal to give Georgia State a 3-0 lead with 5:05 left in the 1st quarter. That 12-play, 71-yard drive led the first points the Panthers have scored on an opening drive this season.
Georgia State used an efficient ground game to move the football throughout the first half, finishing with 101 rushing yards in the opening two quarters, but each of their next two drives stalled out in Cajuns territory and resulted in no points. And Louisiana looked poised to take advantage late in the 2nd quarter, when Lewis found a wide open Jalen Williams on 3rd-and-11 for a 51-yard gain down to the GSU 25. But when head coach Billy Napier rolled the dice once more and went for it on a 4th-and-2 at the 6-yard-line, the Panthers defense got their second red zone stop of the half as Jacorey Crawford dropped Lewis for a 7-yard loss that preserved Georgia State’s 3-0 lead at the half. Outside of those two long passes, the Cajuns managed 97 yards on the 32 other plays they ran in the first half and were held to just 38 yards rushing on 16 attempts by the Georgia State defense.
In the second half, two big plays shifted the momentum squarely in Georgia State’s direction. A Eric Garror punt return for a touchdown that would have given the Cajuns a 7-3 early in the 3rd quarter was called back due to an illegal block in the back penalty. And then with 9:40 left in the quarter, Antavious Lane intercepted a Levi Lewis pass at the GSU 48. Three plays later, Georgia State had a 10-0 lead when Darren Grainger found Roger Carter for a 37-yard touchdown pass with 8:46 in the 3rd. Facing a two-score deficit and trying for a third 4th down conversion inside the red zone after failing on two in the first half, the Cajuns made it third time lucky and got on the scoreboard for the first time with a 13-yard Peter LeBlanc touchdown catch with 2:49 left in the 3rd quarter.
The road to bowl eligibility doesn’t get any easier for Georgia State next Saturday, when they head to Conway, SC, to face the 7-1 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. And Coach Elliott referred to the team’s upcoming tough matchup, saying, “We’ve got a good Coastal team coming up, we’ve got to prepare hard. We can’t let this loss right here defeat us twice. We’ve got to push forward and get our mind back right.” And kickoff in that game next Saturday from Brooks Stadium will be at 2pm Eastern and the action can be seen on ESPN+.