Panthers Overcome Slow Start, Finish Strong in 31-14 Win Over South Alabama
Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com
It was a tale of two halves as the Georgia State Panthers (4-4, 3-4 in Sun Belt) used a big second half to defeat the South Alabama Jaguars (3-6, 2-4 in Sun Belt) 31-14 in their final road game of the season. Despite committing four turnovers in the first half, a career day from star WR Sam Pinckney and a stellar game from the defense propelled the Panthers to outscore the Jaguars 24-7 in the second half and turned the game completely around. The defense turned in a dominant performance despite the unit missing two key starters – defensive lineman Dontae Wilson and safety Antavious Lane.
After an inauspicious start to the second half, things started going back and forth about halfway through the 3rd quarter. With 7 minutes remaining in the quarter and the score tied at 7, the Panthers thought they recovered a fumble at midfield and had finally gained some momentum. The call was overturned – and three plays later, the Jaguars found the end zone via a 7-yard Jared Wilson run to go up 14-7 with 6:11 remaining in the quarter. From that drive on, the Panthers responded emphatically. Their next four drives ended in a touchdown, a touchdown, a 22-yard Michael Hayes field goal and then one final touchdown. Tucker Gregg’s third touchdown of the day made it 31-14 with 5:33 to go and put a cap on a 24-0 Georgia State run to end the game. Despite his first half struggles, Panthers’ QB Quad Brown settled down and found his favorite target, WR Sam Pinckney, multiple times for big gains. Pinckney would finish the day with a career-high 176 receiving yards on only five catches. Gregg and Jam Williams led the way for the running backs with 79 and 68 yards on the ground respectively.
Both teams played to a 7-7 halftime tie after an inconsistent first half performance by the Panthers offense. Brown threw three interceptions and the team’s leading rusher Destin Coates lost a costly fumble that largely kept the Jaguars in the game. Despite 272 first-half yards, the four turnovers meant the Panthers scored just the 7 points in the first two quarters. The game stayed deadlocked into the break because the Georgia State defense largely kept the Jaguars at bay on offense, led by relentless pressure by the Panthers front that would carry into the second half. The Panthers did score in the first half, after a beautifully executed 15-play, 96-yard drive that ended in a Quad Brown touchdown run, set up by a 27-yard reception to TE Roger Carter. Carter shined in the first half, hauling in all five of his catches for the game in the first 30 minutes for 71 yards.
Despite being without two defensive starters in Wilson and Lane, the Georgia State defense didn’t skip a beat. Georgia State heckled Jaguars QB Desmond Trotter all game, racking up 7 sacks, 2 QB hurries and 12 total TFLs. The final exclamation point came after Panthers DE Hardrick Willis sacked Trotter late in the 4th quarter to move into first place on the all-time sack leaderboard at Georgia State, passing Mackendy Cheridor. Jordan Strachan continued his case for Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, picking up another 2 sacks and 3 total TFLs.
Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott cited a change in practice philosophy as a possible spark for the defense’s recent performance. “We started having a period at the end where we went good on good…it’s our “Finish strong” period and I think it’s really helped us. It’s great competitiveness going against our offense, ending on a high note,” Elliott said. “If you watch those guys go out there and hunt, I mean, for whatever reason – maybe it’s growth – but I like seeing it,” he continued.
The Panthers return home next week for their final regular season game of the season against Georgia Southern and a chance at their second consecutive winning season. Kickoff at Center Parc Stadium is at noon and the game can be seen on ESPN3.