Despite a snail’s pace start to the game, the Georgia State Panthers beat in-state rival Georgia Southern 21-14 on Saturday night. The Panthers didn’t see a lead until early in the fourth quarter which they held for not 10 minutes before the Eagles drew even. A 73-yard drive that began inside two minutes in the fourth and ended with under half a minute left in the game was capped by a Jam Williams rushing touchdown that gave Georgia State the final word in the eighth gridiron meeting between the two teams.
Williams, the late hero for the Panthers, led the team in all-purpose yards with 97 and carried the ball twelve times. It took him a while to get involved in the game, 81 yards and eight carries came in the fourth quarter, but nonetheless he came up clutch.
“I think that is probably one of the most exciting [touchdowns],” Williams said about his 23-yard score that all but iced the game. “It was just really good to come down and do that in that environment; it was just a blessing.”
The late uptick in production from Williams mirrors the early troubles the Panthers had offensively. Georgia State recorded just 115 first half yards and punted four times in the first half; it scored 21 points on 263 yards in the second half.
“We didn’t make a single adjustment in the second half,” GSU head coach Shawn Elliott said about his team’s offensive improvement. Elliott continued to say that the Panther offense was working fairly well early in the game but was often caught behind the sticks which prevented them from stringing together a strong drive.
Georgia State was allowed to stumble through the half thanks to the bend-don’t-break defense that has been crucial in the Panthers’ past two games. Despite earning 264 yards the in the first half Eagles were kept to just one score, which Elliott said was a large part of the victory.
“Our defense was playing lights out. [Georgia Southern] had some yardage,” he said, “but [the Eagles] only had seven points [at halftime] so we were within striking distance.”
Antavious Lane was a crucial part of the defense for the Panthers. He made 11 tackles, nine of which he did on his own, and was credited for two pass breakups; he was a part of more than just two incomplete passes, however.
The Eagles offense played their trademark ground dominant offensive game, they rushed the ball nearly 50 times, but QB Justin Tomlin threw the ball a career-high 27 times. He completed 18 passes and threw for 279 yards, both also career highs but threw two interceptions, both just outside the redzone.
Tomlin rushed for 32 yards on 10 attempts, both season-lows as the full-time quarterback. He ceded lots carries that are typically QB keepers to running back Logan Wright. Wright rushed 20 times for 113 yards and recorded the first score of the game.
Georgia State QB Darren Grainger also took an uncharacteristically low workload in the run game. Grainger carried the ball just 10 times, five of which came in the fourth quarter. Grainger found little success in the air, too; he completed just 16 passes for 141 yards.
Alongside Williams in the Georgia State backfield was Tucker Gregg, who has transitioned from short-distance power back to cowbell rusher this season. Gregg gained 87 yards on 16 carries and scored the two non-Williams touchdowns.
Early in the third quarter play was halted for a significant amount of time after Georgia Southern defensive back Tyler Bride was carted off the field on a back board and left the stadium in an ambulance following a tackle. Prior to leaving the game Bride played a big part in the Eagles’ defensive effort. He recorded four tackles, all solo, including two for loss and broke up at least one pass.
Bride is “recovering and doing well” according to his father on Twitter.
The win is Georgia State’s fourth of the season and third consecutive victory. They are 4-4, .500 for the first time this season, and with a 3-1 Sun Belt record are one part of a three-way tie for first in the Sun Belt’s East Division. The Panthers play Louisiana on short rest next week; they will visit the Ragin’ Cajuns on Thursday, November 4 for a 7:30 pm kickoff,
Georgia Southern’s loss is it’s sixth of the season, and at 1-4 in Sun Belt play (2-6 overall) sit bottom of the Sun Belt’s East Division. The Eagles are 1-3 under interim head coach Kevin Whitley, with a tough schedule still ahead. The Panthers host No. 24 Coastal Carolina at 6:00 pm on Saturday, November 6.