Harden’s big performance not enough as Southern defeats Panthers

On Saturday afternoon, in a matchup that could be the beginning of a new football rivalry, Georgia State lost the battle of that rivalry to the Georgia Southern Eagles by a final score of 69˗31.

Years of animosity and built up tension between the two schools finally had a chance to come to a head at the Georgia Dome.

Both teams warmed up with excitement and anticipation to go head to head for the first time in their histories. Georgia State won the coin toss and elected to receive the first possession of the game. With a kick return by Avery Sweeting to the 25˗yard line, it placed Nick Arbuckle in place to hit tight end Joel Ruiz on the first play.

With a few plays into the drive, Arbuckle connected with Sweeting on a huge 40-yard pass to place them in Eagles’ territory. The drive was handicapped by several holding penalties, which put the Panthers in bad position to convert the drive into six points. Wil Lutz did manage to cap on 3 points with a 44˗yard field goal, giving Georgia State an early 3˗0 lead.

Georgia Southern began its first drive on the 21˗yard line. The Eagles, as expected, came out running the ball efficiently, gaining three quick first downs pushing the Panthers defense on their heels early. The Eagles drive was capped off by a 7- yard touchdown run by running back Matt Breida. The nine play drive accumulated to seven rushing plays and two pass plays that gave Georgia Southern a 7˗3 lead.

The Panthers began their second drive on the 21˗yard line. One play into the drive, Marcus Caffey coughed up the ball after a hit by Georgia Southern safety Trent Hill then scooped up for a score by the other safety Antonio Glover. For the Panthers’ benefit, the play was reviewed and reversed. The drive did not manage to gain any progress as Georgia Southern’s defense controlled Arbuckle and the offense to nothing and forced the Panthers to punt.

Kevin Ellison made his first mark on the game with a 26˗yard run placing the Eagles in the Panthers’ territory, inside the 20. Three plays later, Ellison finished off the drive with 9˗yard touchdown placing the Eagles up by eleven at 14˗3.

On the ensuing kick-off, Georgia State returner Glenn Smith returned an electrifying 77˗yard for a touchdown, but was called back due to a holding penalty.

Later, sophomore Robert Davis got involved in the game with 28-yard reception placing the ball on the 28-yard line. The Panthers were backed by a penalty. However, the scoring drive was capped off by a touchdown connection between Arbuckle and junior wide receiver Donovan Harden. This made the score 14˗10.

Georgia Southern had great field position for their next possession by a 46˗yard return by Montay Crockett. The Eagles moved quickly right back into Panthers territory with several efficient runs.

The Eagles would find the endzone again as this time the drive was capped off by a 19˗yard run by Zack Walker. The drive took 5 plays and spanned 54-yards in two minutes and twenty seconds. The score put Southern up 20˗10 as the extra point attempt was no good.

The Panthers struck quickly with a 59-yard bomb to Donavan Harden from Arbuckle. The drive was 3 plays for 75-yards to bring Georgia State within four at 20˗17.

On the ensuing drive, the Eagles would muster a great field position with a long return by Derek Keaton.

Georgia Southern began to move the ball into scoring position. The Eagles were successful in reaching the endzone again as redshirt freshman L.A Ramsby ended a drive lasting over three minutes with an 8˗yard touchdown. That placed Georgia Southern ahead 27˗17.

The Panthers started the next possession at the 34˗yard line and continued chopping away into Eagles territory, until Arbuckle’s pass was intercepted by Eagles sophomore cornerback Darius Jones. Arbuckle had thrown 124 pass attempts without an interception.

The score at the half would be 27˗17 Southern. The Eagles’ nationally top˗ranked rushing attack was on display yet again as they had outgained the Panthers on the ground 269 to 34.

On Georgia State’s end, Arbuckle had thrown for 230-yards compared to 25-yards for Eagles quarterback Kevin Ellison.

Georgia Southern comes out at halftime looking for Matt Breida immediately. The drive was for one play and 75-yards to find the endzone for a 34-17 Eagles’ lead.

The following Panthers drive would see Arbuckle nearly picked off on the first play, and would end in a three and out as a third down connection to Robert Davis would wound up just short of first down yardage.

In the second drive of the third quarter, a 10˗play 66-yard drive that took nearly six minutes ended with Breida reaching the endzone once again. This made the score 41˗17.

The third drive for the Panthers this period would be promising as Georgia State moved the ball to the Eagles’ 30˗yard line. Having a chance to score six, Arbuckle targeted Harden for a wide-open touchdown, but Harden dropped it. Lutz attempted a 48˗yard field goal try, but was not successful.

For the third consecutive drive the Eagles found the end zone once more after an 8 play, 69˗yard drive. L.A. Ramsby took it to the house for a 5˗yard touchdown. This made the score 48˗17.

Georgia State would respond on their next drive that lasted from the end of the third quarter into the beginning of the fourth. The five play, 72˗yard drive culminated in Arbuckle connecting with Harden again for 35-yards to cut their deficit to 48˗24.

But, as was the case all game, the Panthers’ defense had no answer for Breida. On the next Southern drive, Breida went 61-yards for a touchdown on a drive that spanned less than two minutes. This made the score 55˗24 in favor of Georgia Southern.

The first and only play of the following Panthers drive ended in an Arbuckle fumble forced by Eagles’ linebacker Antwione Williams and recovered by Deion Stanley at the Georgia State 26˗yard line.

Two runs from runningback Ean saw the Eagles lead increase to 62˗24.

The following Georgia State possession would start at their 25˗yard line and last for five plays for 75- yards in just over two minutes.

As had been the case all game, Arbuckle found Harden, this time from 36-yards out, for his fourth touchdown of the game. The score was 62˗31 in favor of Georgia Southern, as Harden’s fourth touchdown of the game set a new school record.

Georgia Southern would take over on offense again as their ensuing drive included a 29˗yard run from Ezayi Youyoute. Four plays later, Dennis Pritchard capped off the scoring drive with a 9˗yard touchdown run that gave the Eagles a 69˗31 advantage with under five minutes to play in the game.

The final Georgia State drive of the game would see Ronnie Bell in at quarterback and Gerald Howse as runningback. As the Panthers advanced the football to midfield, Bell was moved back for an 8˗yard loss and a fumble. The turnover was recovered by Eagles’ cornerback Tay Hicklin. Georgia Southern took a few kneel downs to seal their first victory of this heated rivalry.

After the game, Panthers’ head coach Trent Miles called his team’s performance “unacceptable”, but also expressed confidence that his team could bounce back next week.

“We will come back with a great plan next week, and our kids will work hard, and we’ll go out and play the best football we’ve played all season long. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Miles said.

Harden took questions after the game also, and despite his record setting performance, commented on the pass he dropped during the third quarter.

“It’s hard to get excited, especially when I dropped a fifth touchdown pass,” Harden said. “It’s really what I’m thinking about right now. But, give Georgia Southern credit. They came out here to play and I don’t think we did.”

Final Eagles stats

· Over 600 yards gained on the ground

· Breida: 12 carries, 201 rushing yards, four touchdowns

· Ellison: 15 carries, 120 yards, one rushing touchdown

· Ramsby: 12 carries, almost 100 yards

Final Panthers stats:

· Arbuckle: completed 24 of 38 passes, 408 passing yards, four touchdowns

· Harden: 11 receptions, 186 yards, four touchdowns

· Caffey: 15 carries, 48 yards