GSU hits the pitch and kick off the year with two crucial games

Matthew Fearnley and the Men’s Soccer team up against the University of South Carolina during their second win at Stone Stadium. Photo Submitted by GSU Athletics

The Panthers are back on the prowl with some familiarity to start this season, which came in the form of a 2-1 win over the Mercer Bears on Sept. 18, led by the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year, Aris Briggs.

The senior forward thrived last season, leading the Sun Belt in total points (33) and goals (16), scoring almost once a game. He also had six game-winning goals during the excellent run, as well. 

Briggs silenced those questioning his consistency when he scored early off of a beautiful Justin Guest pass in.

After falling in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament to Coastal Carolina, the men were out to atone for that ending and win the Sun Belt Tournament on their way to the NCAA Tournament.

The team enters the season sporting a healthy mix of veteran players and four seniors, Aris Briggs, Paul Tyson, Andrew Miller-Bell and George Proctor. 

A testament to the skill that the Panthers bring are the preseason acknowledgments, goalkeeper Paul Tyson earned All-Preseason Sun Belt honors, and forward Aris Briggs was named the Sun Belt Offensive Preseason Player of the Year. 

The men spread their talent well: Midfielder Rossie Finnie, defender George Proctor, goalie Paul Tyson and forward Aris Briggs were either first or second-team All-Sun Belt in 2019, along with the 2018 freshman of the year midfielder Logan Luque. 

With that pedigree and a history of winning under head coach Brett Surrency, the Panthers started on the right track to achieve their championship aspirations.

Briggs was ranked seventh among all players in NCAA Division I men’s soccer with 16 goals last season and picked up where he left off. He put his team up early with a goal in the 10th minute off the assist from Justin Guest and saw the Panthers hold a 1-0 lead to end the first half thanks to the infallible wall that was keeper Paul Tyson.

Tyson, a robust defense named Defensive Player of the Week multiple times, held the Bears scoreless until the 69th minute when they evened the score 1-1. That score held for less than 20 minutes before Briggs was back on the scoresheet with the go-ahead header in the 81st minute off the assist from George Proctor.

Tyson’s play gained recognition throughout the conference for his play in the opener, earning Defensive Player of the Week in the Sun Belt Conference for the fourth time last week.

“Senior goalkeeper Paul Tyson, who was named to the All-Sun Belt Preseason Team, led the Panthers to a 2-1 victory over Mercer on Friday night in the season opener for both teams,” the team said in the announcement. “Tyson finished with seven saves, including multiple remarkable saves in the first half that kept Mercer off the scoreboard until after halftime.”

Not to be left out either, the leading scorer Aris Briggs received acknowledgment as the Offensive Player of the Week in the Sun Belt Conference for the second time in a row.

Next up for the 1-0 Panthers were the 1-0 South Carolina Gamecocks.

Coming off a win a week ago, the Panthers were likely happy with the result but knew there were adjustments to be made. One of those adjustments looked to be the aggressiveness as they kept the ball in the South Carolina territory for the majority of the first half.

Keeping consistent pressure on the Gamecocks paid off as the defenders slowly whittled under the continual passing. They stayed engaged with their mark and ultimately resulted in a goal by Matthew Fearnley to make the game 1-0. 

In case anyone had any misgivings about how well the Panther’s pressure was working, Jeryn Hodge made sure to hammer the point home. The freshman made his mark early, scoring his first collegiate goal 35 seconds after Fearnley, increasing the lead to 2-0 for the boys in blue. That lead carried to the end of the 1st half as Georgia State just looked to be out-hustling and out-playing South Carolina all across the pitch. 

However, the South Carolina team also deserves credit for adjusting in the game as well. After the intermission, it looked like they ratcheted up the pace and started showing up to defend the home field. However, the Panthers wanted to take a more patient approach to open the second half. 

Even with a sense of urgency displayed by South Carolina to open the second half, they still could not get past Paul Tyson until the 69th minute in a bit of an odd play. Kyle Guerrieri is credited with the goal, though it looked more like Tyson underestimated the ball’s power and let it trickle underneath him for the goal.

However, it seemed something went amiss as Tyson appeared quite upset. He seemed to take his frustration out on his Gatorade bottle, seeming to slam it down in disgust as South Carolina hurried back to the center of the pitch. That was the only aberration on a night where defense players hounded the Panthers scorers, going for tackles and frustrating the attack at every turn.

The Gamecocks kept Briggs out of the net for the day, but he still made his presence known as he helped his team close out the game.

Up 2-1 late in the match, Briggs started to pull away from his mark, forcing the foul to create a free-kick piece for State. The keeper deflected the free-kick, setting up Simon Carlson for the second-chance shot, which he converted in the 84th minute. That was his first career goal and gave Georgia State the 3-1 lead it would keep for the rest of the game.

With that win, the Panthers,’s National Team of the Week, move to 2-0 on the young season. They play their first home game on Nov. 30th against the University of Alabama at Birmingham.