It took a full four quarters, but the Georgia State Panthers beat the Arkansas State Red Wolves 28-20 Saturday afternoon in a win that sends the Panthers to a bowl game for the third consecutive year: the first such streak in program history.
Arkansas State started the scoring with a 40-yard first drive field goal after recovering a Georgia State fumble around midfield. The teams then exchanged five punts between each other before an 85-yard drive capped by a Jamyest Williams one-yard touchdown gave the Panthers a 7-3 lead, which they would not relinquish.
That lead was not held without struggle, however. Through the entire third quarter, plus a few seconds in the fourth Georgia State was up 14-13.
Early in the final frame Williams scored his second of two touchdowns that afternoon to gain a larger step ahead of the Red Wolves. Not three minutes later QB Darren Grainger rushed for a 35-yard touchdown to go up 15.
“I tell them all the time,” GSU head coach Shawn Elliott said post-game, “you’ve got to play 60 minutes the hardest and the longest….and we love to use every last second of that 60-minute ball game.”
Elliott was referring to a late score that kept the Red Wolves in contention. After receiving the ball thanks to an Arkansas State turnover on downs, the Panthers handed the rock right back.
Melique Straker forced a fumble by GSU tight end Roger Carter and Arkansas State defensive end Kivon Bennett made an 80-yard house call to bring the game to 28-20.
The Panthers managed to run out the clock on the ensuing drive, but this is their fourth consecutive game decided by one score.
Despite heavily relying on the pass game as it typically does, Arkansas State was unable to create an efficient aerial attack. QB Layne Hatcher completed under 60% of his passes, was picked off twice and fell victim to six sacks.
“They came out and played fantastic football,” Elliott said about his team’s defensive performance, “they were relentless all day. Offensively we didn’t put [our defense] in a lot of good situations… they responded and did fantastic.”
Georgia State’s offense was centered around the ground game. Williams and fellow running back Tucker Gregg touched the ball on over half of Panthers’ offensive snaps. Williams scored twice and had a career-high 125 yards. Gregg saw the end zone once himself and came two yards short of his own 100-yard performance.
“It starts up front with our o-line,” Williams said, “but from a running back stand point it’s just about patience.”
Williams added that both he and Gregg are “competitors” but actively work to help one another in their crafts.
“We give each other tips on the sidelines,” he added, “on what we both see and want to help each other.”
Outside of the rushing game, receiver Jamari Thrash gained 103 yards, his first 100+ receiving game of his three-year career; he recorded four of the Panthers’ ten catches and recorded over two-thirds of their receiving yards.
With their victory over Arkansas State, the Panthers have sent themselves bowling for a third consecutive season.
“It used to be a nice surprise,” Elliott said about a bowl game berth, “now it’s expected.”
They will likely play in one of the Cure, Lending Tree, R+L Carriers New Orleans, Myrtle Beach, or Camellia Bowls.
Georgia State is now 6-5 overall, 5-2 in-conference. They sits second in the Sun Belt East thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker over Coastal Carolina. The Panthers next play at home against Troy on Saturday, November 27th at 2:00 pm.
Arkansas State falls to 2-9 overall, 1-6 in Sun Belt play. They are at the bottom of the Sun Belt West Division and the conference overall. On Saturday, November 27 at 2:00 pm the Red Wolves will host Texas State for their final game of the season.