Georgia State (3-2, 2-0) defeated Louisiana-Monroe 47-37 (3-3, 3-1) to remain atop the Sun Belt Conference standings. The Panthers set both program and individual records Saturday evening.
The win at Louisiana Monroe makes a three-game road winning streak, the longest such streak in program history. The Panthers set school records for total offense in a game with 670 yards.
“I can tell you one thing: we’re pleased to death with this win. We never take winning for granted,” head coach Shawn Elliott said. “I’m very proud of the effort – our guys fought hard. We made it interesting in the fourth quarter, but we’re 2-0 in the conference, and someone has to come knock us off. We’re going to continue to work to see how good we can be.”
The Panthers set school records for total offense in a game with 670 yards. Conner Manning finished 26-35, 446 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. Penny Hart tied the Georgia State single-game receiving record with 11 receptions, and amassed 190 yards and three touchdowns to break those records as well.
The rushing attack caught fire to the tune of 224 yards on an average of 5.5 yards per attempt, despite losing their top two backs, Taz Bateman and Glenn Smith.
“Everybody took a turn at running back. Kyler Neal and DeMarcus Kirk came in and gave us a great effort,” Elliott said. “Who knows who’s going to show up at running back next week! Hats off to the offensive line; they did a good job of moving their front.”
Penny Hart reeled in a deep 50-yd touchdown with one hand on the game’s opening possession. Brandon Wright would have his extra point blocked the second consecutive week the special teams unit left a PAT on the board.
The Warhawks promptly responded with a 93-yd return by Marcus Green to take a 7-6 early in the first quarter. Georgia State regained the lead in just three plays by way of a 69-yd pass from Manning to Devin Gentry, who did most of the work after the catch.
Kicker Barry Brown kicked the ball short in an attempt to avoid another long return, but Duke Carter IV returned the ball to the Panthers’ 40-yd line. The cover unit on the kickoff team allowed four returns of 35 yards or more, and recovered one of Louisiana-Monroe’s two onside kicks.
Possibly anticipating a shootout, ULM went for fourth-down on the drive, but the Panther pass-rush forced Louisiana-Monroe quarterback, Caleb Evans, to throw the ball away. Evans, who threw for over 400 yards and scored four total touchdowns in a win over Texas State last week, was held in check by Georgia State’s defense. ULM backup quarterback, Garrett Smith, played the entire second half besides their first possession.
The Panthers didn’t move the ball much on the following drive, but Wright responded to a missed PAT with a punt downed at the Warhawks’ 1 yd-line. Louisiana-Monroe would hold their first sustainable drive of the game when they moved the ball deep into the Panthers’ territory, but settled for a field goal.
Tight end, Ari Werts, caught a 32-yd strike from Manning to put the Panthers in the redzone. Wright was 1/5 on field goal attempts coming into the game, but made a 27-yd field goal with ease, his first make since a 20-yarder during the Aug. 31 season-opener against Tennessee State.
A 10-yd scamper by Manning began on the Panthers’ many efficient, methodical drives. Sophomore receiver, Devin Gentry, took a slick reverse for a 15-yd touchdown near the end of the second half; however, a quick three and out by the Warhawks’ offense allowed for one more Georgia State possession before halftime.
Manning led the offense to the Warhawks’ 29-yd line in less than a minute, positioning right for a field goal attempt. Wright drilled the 46-yd field goal as time expired in the first half, and many teammates ran to him and not the locker room to show their support for the Atlanta, Georgia, product.
The Panthers’ Marterious Allen recovered a fumble on the Warhawks’ first possession of the second half quarter. Allen finished the game with five tackles and three sacks, a Panther season-high. Hart scored his second and third touchdowns in a third quarter, featuring two touchdowns by each team.
Georgia State began the next possession inside their own 5-yd line, following a block in the back on the kickoff and false start on the first play.
Third and fourth starting running backs, Kyler Neal and Demarcus Kirk, were the stars of the next drive. Neal took the Panthers’ backs off the end zone with a 19-yd gain.
Neal compiled 55 all-purpose yards on the nearly eight-minute drive and, and capped off it off with a short touchdown run, for a 47-24 lead. Kirk ran for 38 yards on the drive on five carries.
Smith led Louisiana-Monroe to two late touchdowns drives in the fourth quarter, but they were not enough to win, falling to Georgia State 47-37.
“I wasn’t too pleased with the points. We spotted them on special teams, and the fourth quarter was a little disappointing, but our defense played well for the most part,” Elliott said.
Georgia State returns to Atlanta for their first home game in 51 days next Saturday against Troy (4-2, 1-1). At Troy last season, Georgia State led 14-6 as the third quarter winded down, but the Trojans scored 24 points within the next minutes, to win 31-21.
Georgia State turned the ball over three times in last season’s matchup. Besides an intercepted hail mary from Manning on the final play of the first half at Coastal Carolina, the Panthers haven’t had a turnover since their mid-September meeting with No. 5 Penn State.
Troy defeated No. 25 LSU on the road 24-21, making this matchup LSU’s first home loss to a non-SEC opponent since 2000. Surprisingly, Troy fell 19-8 to South Alabama last Thursday, after being held scoreless in the first three quarters.
The must-see matchup will be Penny Hart against Troy’s lanky secondary led by safety Cedarius Rookard (37 tot. tackles). The Trojans play the best redzone defense in the Sun Belt, limiting opponents to score just 58.8% of the time, an area where Georgia State has not excelled.
Georgia State’s offense, which completes 49.3% of their third down attempts, faces Troy’s ninth-ranked third down defense. The Homecoming matchup kicks off at 2:00 p.m. and is available on ESPN3.