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Comeback defeat of Owls has fanbase ecstatic, NC State next on docket

Georgia State (1-0) is unscathed after coming back to defeat Kennesaw State (0-1) 24-20 behind a last-minute, game-winning touchdown pass from new starting quarterback Dan Ellington to Diondre Champaigne. The highlight of opening night was Ellington’s guts and determination, landing the Panthers in the best place to win in Ellington’s first Division I football game ever.

He finished passing 20-28 for 187 yards and three touchdowns and he rushed for a game-high 77 yards in front of a hostile, 23,088-person Georgia State Stadium crowd. Head coach Shawn Elliott named Ellington the team’s starter just two days before the game, and the junior college transfer played with high poise and comfortability.

Trailing 14-0 with under a minute to go in the second half, the Panthers were in bad shape but found a way to score two well-needed touchdowns before halftime. The team is a young bunch, led by a quarterback who’s calm under pressure and made the plays that mattered.

“What a gutsy performance. When I say guts, I mean he laid it on the line. He did everything in his power,” head coach Shawn Elliott said of Ellington. “He willed himself to make plays, he willed that football team to move down offensively to get that winning score. There were times he took a couple of hits, and he got up and just fueled his fire even more.”

Although Ellington shined brightest, the Georgia State defense held Kennesaw State to just two field goals in the final 39 minutes of regulation. Ellington threw a perfectly placed ball for the 6’3 Champaigne to grab over a shorter cornerback with 41 seconds remaining in the game. Penny Hart and freshman Christian Owens also caught touchdown passes from Ellington.

This win snapped Georgia State’s three-game opening day losing streak, with the last such victory being 38-37 over Abilene Christian in 2014. That was the only win for that team, but this Georgia State team may have an identity that is hard to deal with for future opponents.

The Panthers showed grit, discipline and trust in one another. In the postgame press conference, Ellington mentioned that the team regularly practices the two-minute drill and it gave the offense poise and confidence down the stretch.

“To address the fans, I’m never going to give up. I’m never gonna stop playing. I’m going to fight to the end,” Ellington said.

Ellington said he led three or four comeback drives at Itawamba Community College last season. This comeback may not have been possible without a forced fumble by Terry Thomas under seven minutes to go while Kennesaw State was inside the redzone with a 20-14 lead. It didn’t lead to points, but they bent and didn’t break, the key to the victory.

NC STATE PREVIW (SEPT. 8, 12:30 P.M., RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA)

Georgia State’s next test is a road matchup against the Atlantic Coast Conference’s North Carolina State, its lone Power 5 opponent of the season. The Wolfpack defeated the 2017 FCS national champion runner-up, James Madison, 24-13 last Saturday to start the year 1-0.

The Wolfpack did not blow past their FCS opponent just as Georgia State wasn’t able to do. In fact, James Madison scored first, shut out North Carolina State in the first quarter and never trailed until 9:39 left in the second quarter.

North Carolina State has four of its top five receiving weapons from 2017. Throwing to them will be Ryan Finley, who is on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, an award given to the college football player of the year.

One of the biggest question marks on the Panthers’ roster entering the season was the secondary because they lost 2017 starters Chandon Sullivan, Bryan Williams, B.J. Clay and Antreal Allen. This year’s unit had a respectable performance against Kennesaw State and Chandler Burks, one of the FCS’s top notch quarterbacks.

However, Finley’s arm and weapons are a far more challenging task to deal with for the secondary that doesn’t have much game experience starting together. Georgia State’s top cornerback Jerome Smith may be tasked with guarding Jakobi Meyers, who had 161 yards on 14 catches, two career highs against James Madison.

The strength of James Madison is its running game, and the Wolfpack held it in check to the tune of 163 yards. Georgia State’s leading rusher is Ellington, but next on the list is Tra Barnett, who had 18 yards and 1.8 average per carry.

The Wolfpack were projected to finish third in the ACC, and they even received two first-place votes for the Atlantic Division in the ACC’s preseason poll.

In its eight completed seasons, Georgia State has never beaten a Power 5 team. The Panthers came close in 2016 when they led No. 9 Wisconsin 17-13 with under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The North Carolina State game will be broadcast on the Fox Regional Sports Networks, and it is the first road test for the Panthers this season.

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