The Georgia State Panthers, whose recent luck in Homecoming fixtures had been sub-par, entered Saturday’s Homecoming game against Arkansas State in desperate need of a season-reviving win.
After the team’s historic 2-0 start, including the victory in Knoxville against the Tennessee Volunteers, Shawn Elliott’s men had hit a wall. The 57-10 loss against Western Michigan was compounded by a heartbreaking 37-34 loss to Texas State in triple-overtime.
But fresh off a bye-week, Elliott’s men came out hoping to make a good impression on the faithful fans that piled into Georgia State Stadium, hoping for nothing less than a victory.
The team’s 52-38 victory, led by birthday boy Dan Ellington and the running back trio of Tra Barnett, Seth Paige, and Destin Coates, was their first against Arkansas State in program history.
“You want to get some attention in this league? Go knock off that guy that you have never touched before,” Elliott said. The Panthers won the opening coin toss and elected to receive the ball. Ellington, who finished with a career-high 382 passing yards, led his men down the field in a confident fashion. Barnett, who finished the evening with 141 total rushing yards, capped off the opening drive with a three-yard score, electrifying those in blue and white.
In the past weeks, the defense has been a major concern, but they fed off the energy and played well early. A quick stop sent the Panthers’ sideline into a jubilant celebration. Soon after, it was 14-0. Destin Coates, who was a standout against Texas State, capitalized on his extended snap count and scampered home from 27-yards out, soon after Seth Paige added his name to the score sheet. The Panthers’ running game was on full display; the team took a commanding 21-0 lead.
“The [offensive line] was doing a great and phenomenal job,” Barnett said. “I have a lot of faith in myself and the [offensive line].” Blake Anderson’s men needed to respond. Quarterback Layne Hatcher helped the Red Wolves do just that. Hatcher found Kirk Merritt for a 24-yard score.
The drive set in motion a shootout of epic proportions, when the half was all said and done, Georgia State took a 31-21 lead into the locker rooms.
The Panthers found a dream start to the second half proceedings. Ellington led the team on a six-play, 90-yard drive and capped it off with a 10-yard touchdown run to push the team’s lead to 38-21.
Anderson’s men were not going to fall without a fight, however. As the third quarter came to a close, the Red Wolves clawed their way back to within 10 points. The 38-28 scoreline began to instill belief into those wearing white and red.
Soon after the fourth quarter began, Arkansas State set up a grandstand finish. The Panthers’ secondary unit began to leak, yet again, and the scoreboard suddenly read 38-35 with 10:30 left to go. Those who remained inside the Georgia State Stadium began to worry. Were their beloved Panthers crumbling?
The ensuing drive eased those fears. Ellington, as he has done all season, showed plenty of leadership.
The senior led the offense on an all-important eight-play, 75-yard drive. Coates found the end zone for the second time, rushing home from a yard out to push the lead back to ten points.
Arkansas State answered back with a 44-yard field goal, courtesy of Blake Grupe, but the clock was their ultimate Achilles heel. Barnett all but sealed the contest on the following drive. The senior flashed his speed, carrying the ball 56 yards. A couple of plays later, Coates found the end zone for the third time.
As the clock struck 0:00, those in blue and white rushed over to the student section to celebrate with the band and those who had toughed out the chilly conditions and stayed to witness the historic victory.
For Coach Elliott, it was a collective team effort and one to hopefully build upon as the team seeks out another bowl appearance.
“These guys are men,” he said. “They do things the right way.”
Key Point of the Game
An offensive master class was the difference, as birthday boy Dan Ellington had a career-best night.
On the ground, three different running backs found the end zone, in what was a collective team effort