After falling victim to a handful of heartbreaking losses this season, the Georgia State Panthers got to play the villain after they beat Troy 37-10 in each team’s final regular season game Saturday afternoon. The Trojans needed a win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2018, but instead the Panthers won their sixth conference game of the year, a program best.
Despite Troy’s defense coming into this game among the best in the Group of 5, it was Georgia State’s defense that shined. Perhaps most impressively, Troy recorded just 57 net rushing yards on 38 attempts. 18 of those rushes came in garbage time.
“They were eating,” GSU head coach Shawn Elliott said about his team’s defensive effort, “it looked like Thanksgiving dinner. They were just lining up, next guy up, next guy up.”
At halftime the score was 17-3, a surmountable mountain for Troy. However in the third quarter Georgia State’s defensive performance went from great to dominant. In that period alone, the Panthers sacked Troy QB Gunnar Watson five times, one of which resulted in a scoop and score by GSU OLB Jamil Muhammad.
Muhammad had two sacks that game, bringing his career total to three.
He wasn’t the only Panther to have an important day in terms of personal success, however. Sophomore safety Antavious Lane picked off Watson in the second half to bring his career total to eight interceptions. That tally makes Lane the sole holder of the career interception record for GSU. He previously was tied with Chadon Sullivan at seven.
“We watched him in high school do this, we watch him in college do this, we watch it every single day,” Elliott said. “Congratulations to him… he is just an unbelievable football player.”
The offense had its share of standout performers too, including both running backs Jamyest Williams and Tucker Gregg. The two combined for 191 rushing yards and just 32 touches. Williams scored the sole touchdown between the two when he took ran it in from 50-yards out early in the fourth quarter.
An unusually large portion of Georgia State’s scoring came from kicker Noel Ruiz. Ruiz attempted and made three field goals. This was only the second time all season he had attempted more than one field goal. Ruiz’s kicks were his three longest of the season and a conversion from 50-yards set a career-long.
“Noel’s got a strong leg,” Elliott said, “and he’s a very dependable kicker. He is, what I think, the best kicker in [the Sun Belt] without a doubt and one of the best kickers in the nation.”
This win comes less than a week after Troy fired their head coach of under three years Chip Lindsey. Defensive coordinator Brandon Hall worked as the interim this past week but is not likely to be a favorite for the full-time position.
“They had just made a change in their head football coach,” Elliott said on the impact of Lindsey’s firing may have had on the Trojans, “more so than you worry about schemes you worry about where their mindset is and how they’re playing.”
The Panthers are now 7-5 overall, 6-2 in Sun Belt games, a program-high for in-conference wins. They are tied with Coastal Carolina in record but hold the head-to-head tie breaker advantage, meaning GSU finished second in the Sun Belt East Division, again a program best.
Georgia State will likely play a postseason bowl game, although which one and against who is still to be decided.
Troy, on the other hand, finished their season 5-7, 3-5 in-conference. The Trojans needed a win Saturday to earn a chance to go to a bowl game, but instead their season is officially over.