In a highly anticipated game for the Georgia State Panthers, their 56-27 loss to the Appalachian State Mountaineers ended their chance at a Sun Belt title and halted their four-game home winning streak in front of the Georgia State Stadium faithful.
The Panthers came into this game knowing what the Mountaineers were capable of, as they were 8-1 on the season and had defeated two Power Five teams, including South Carolina. The nationally-ranked Mountaineers, minus their defeat to Georgia Southern, have been nothing short of dominant this year.
With major injuries to Ed Curney, Remy Lazarus and Sam Pinckney, who was out with a foot injury, the Panthers knew other players would have to step up.
For quarterback Dan Ellington, he left last week’s game against the University of Louisiana at Monroe with a torn ACL. That did not stop him from suiting up and playing in the Panthers’ first top 25-ranked matchup in school history. It was an emotional process, but the senior did it for his team.
“I kept telling the guys I was going to play,” Ellington said.
The senior has no plans to call it quits, as the team enters a critical period of the season, seeking the elusive seventh win to all but seal a spot in a bowl game.
“Yes, I’m going to finish the season out,” Ellington said when asked about playing the rest of the season.
As the game began, the Panthers set the tone and came out firing.
Ellington connected with receiver Devin Gentry on a four-yard touchdown pass to lead 7-0 early.
The Mountaineers responded as receiver Corey Sutton caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Zac Thomas, tying the game at seven. Sutton was simply unstoppable, as he finished the game with eight catches for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
From that point on, the Panthers put on an explosive offensive clinic, as they looked to finish the first quarter on top.
Running back Destin Coates broke loose for a 67-yard touchdown run to push the lead back to seven (14-7).
Defensive back Chris Bacon added to the lead, picking off Thomas for a pick-six. The Panthers lead stood at 21-7 with 1:38 left in the first quarter and the crowd was very much into the contest.
The Mountaineers never panicked, though. Instead, they put on an offensive clinic of their own.
Before the end of the first quarter, Thomas found Sutton again on a 20-yard touchdown pass, narrowing the Panthers’ lead to seven.
On the ensuing offensive possession, Thomas powered into the endzone from three yards, tying the game at 21. The quarterback’s performance was dominant. Apart from the pick-six, he finished with 256 yards and four touchdowns through the air, while adding 52 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
The defense got in on the action as well. This time, defensive back Shaun Jolly picked off Ellington for a 30-yard pick-six, giving the Mountaineers their first lead of the game at 28-21.
As the second quarter came to a close, the Mountaineers added another score with 22 seconds left in the first half. This time, receiver Darrynton Evans caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to lead 35-21 going into halftime. Suddenly, the crowd inside the stadium, outside of the boisterous Appalachian State bleachers, was dead silent. Most of the students cleared out.
The second half was all about the Mountaineers.
Evans ran in from 29 yards with less than six minutes to go in the third quarter to increase the Mountaineers lead to 21.
Sutton caught another pass from Thomas, this time from 27 yards for another touchdown to extend the lead to 49-21.
Mountaineers running back Raykwon Anderson added another touchdown from five yards to increase the lead to 35 and cap off the 49-0 run.
The Panthers scored late with a rushing touchdown by running back Tucker Gregg to finish the game on a high note. Cornelious Brown took over for Ellington in the fourth quarter and put together a couple of solid drives.
“As disappointed as I am talking to you about the outcome of the game, we all witnessed something that was incredible,” head coach Shawn Elliott said with tears in his eyes. “For a man to have a torn ACL and come out and do what he did [is] truly remarkable.”
So what did we learn?
Panthers Sun Belt Title Hopes Are Finished
This was an ugly loss to a great Mountaineer team, but more importantly, this loss hurts the Panthers’ chances of competing for the Sun Belt title. The loss to the Warhawks the week before did not help either, but now any chance of lifting the conference’s ultimate prize is as good as gone.
Appalachian State will likely win the division and have a chance to seal their spot in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
Have We Seen The Last of Dan Ellington?
Many people will admire Ellington’s effort and willingness to play in this game after suffering a torn ACL. Although the Panthers came up short, many will wonder if he will hang up his cleats for the rest of the season to return 100% healthy. After the game, Ellington said that he intends to finish the season but only time will tell as the Panthers finish the last two games.
One cannot fault Ellington’s desire to play for his team, but once he sits down in favor of Brown, surgery would likely be the following action.
The Next Two Games Are Crucial For The Future
The Panthers are two wins away from breaking a school record with wins. They will have to get the win against South Alabama and travel to Statesboro to battle the Georgia Southern Eagles. The most important game is the rivalry game against the Eagles, and it can dictate how the future of Georgia State football will look.
While 6 games make the team bowl eligible, it does not guarantee anything. A seventh or eighth win would ensure the Panthers finish this historic season on top.