Georgia State knocks off South Alabama 21-13, for their first win at Georgia State Stadium

Georgia State takes home the win against the South Carolina Jaguars Oct. 26. Photo by Karen O’Donnell | The Signal

History was made on ESPNU Thursday night, as the Georgia State Panthers (4-3, 3-1) secured their first win in the inaugural season at Georgia State Stadium against the South Alabama Jaguars (3-5, 2-2).

The Panthers almost allowed their 21-13 lead slip away from them in the final minutes in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers’ defense prevented what would have been a gut-wrenching loss on national television. Head coach Shawn Elliott was extremely vibrant during his press conference with the media following his team’s victory.

“It’s a great Thursday night here at Georgia State Stadium. First win in this stadium has got to feel good, but we sure do make it interesting, don’t we? We really do,” Elliott said as he almost witnessed his team give up an eight-point lead with 2:11 remaining in the game. “Let me just say our defense played a phenomenal football game, I mean they really did. They had them on their heels all game long — in the secondary, our linebackers, our defensive front just made plays all night.”

Not only did the defense play well Thursday night, but the offense also did its job as well. If you were unable to witness the Panthers get their first win at home at Georgia State Stadium, no need to fret. Here’s what led to the team’s historic victory:

Conner Manning had a brilliant game

Manning had a disappointing outing against the Troy Trojans last week. However, he responded magnificently on the big stage. Against the Jaguars, Manning made smart and efficient passes and was able to connect with Penny Hart, his most coveted wide receiver, on many occasions that benefited the team. Manning went 17-31 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Although Manning had a productive game against the Jaguars, he understands that when the offense isn’t running smoothly, as was the case against the Trojans, grating scrutiny is sure to follow.

“I can only worry about what I can control, and for me, it’s doing my job and making sure everyone is on the same page out here on Saturdays and Thursday nights,” Manning said. “The main focus is just on us as a team.”

Penny Hart, heart of the Panthers

Hart, once again, had a tremendous game against a Jaguars’ secondary that failed to contain his outbursts. Similar to Manning, Hart was unable to produce for his team against Troy, but he made the necessary adjustments, and unfortunately for the Jaguars, Hart had an efficient game and a crucial touchdown with 12:55 left in the fourth quarter. In fact, Hart’s touchdown proved to be the game-winning score for the Panthers. Hart finished the game with six receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. His longest reception of the game was for 45 yards.

Outsiders may not be aware of Hart’s physique since his numbers are that of a wide receiver who is massive, but he consistently makes remarkable plays for his team and at a size that isn’t quite favorable at the wideout position. Nonetheless, it’s Harts determination and mindset that allows him to be the playmaker that the Panthers need on the outside.

“I think for me just my goal this year was to prove to myself that I was able to do what I did my freshman and even better –  and just get better each and every game,” Hart said to the media as to what motivates him to continuously give his all whenever he suits up for the Panthers. “As a leader of this team, no matter if it’s zero catches or whatever it is, when we get that win I feel like my most important asset as a person is my leadership and me being able to get our team to where we need to be.”

Panthers’ defense alive and well

As a unit, the Panthers’ defense created havoc for the opposing offense and held the Jaguars to just six points for the majority of the game. The first touchdown for the Jaguars came with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter, when quarterback, Dallas Davis connected with wide receiver, Jamarius Way for 75 yards; that pass play was longest of the game.

Outside of the late breakdown in the secondary that allowed the Jaguars to come within six points, the defense was able to prevent them from sustaining many offensive drives. It’s worth noting that the very first offensive possession for the Jaguars resulted in an interception by sixth-year senior Bryan Williams.

Before the season kicked off, Williams wasn’t predicted to have a breakout year for this Panthers’ team — especially since he missed the entire season last year due to a significant back injury. In fact, the two defensive backs that were getting national attention for the Panthers were Jerome Smith and Chandon Sullivan. Although Smith and Sullivan are living up to high standards thus far, neither cornerback has caught an interception. However, it is Williams who has caught a team-high four interceptions this year for the Panthers’ defense. He also has six career interceptions.

“My mindset is just to make sure our team is ready, especially with this short week we had we just played Saturday, and we just played a game Thursday,” Williams said as to how he prepares himself to lead this defensive unit every game.

Williams had six tackles and one interception for 30 yards on the return. His interception led to the Panthers’ first touchdown of the game. Cedric Stone also had an interception during the game, which was his first pick of the season. Along from the Panthers’ pass defense, they were also stout against the Jaguars’ rushing attack and only gave up 62 yards on the ground, despite the Jaguars having seven players that carried the ball.

The big thing

In each of the Panthers’ four wins this season, the team has been able to eclipse the 100-yard mark. The Panthers are committed to using a variety of running backs to get the job done, so expect the Panthers to continue to find success as long as they are capable of running the ball efficiently against opposing defenses.

Key numbers

  • Sixth-year senior, Bryan Williams has a team-high four interceptions
  • Panthers become bowl eligible with two more victories
  • Travel to face Georgia Southern Sat., Nov. 4. Georgia State leads the all-time series 2-1