Panthers end season 2-10 with loss to Southern; Hart to enter NFL Draft

Georgia State (2-10, 1-7) and Georgia Southern (9-3, 6-2) moved their rivalry onto Georgia State’s campus for the first time on Nov. 24. The game went much like the first ever meeting between the two teams; the Georgia Southern Eagles powered over the Panthers, but this time by a score of 35-14.

Georgia Southern broke the three-game win streak the Panthers held over them. Georgia State now leads the all-time series 3-2.

The Georgia State defense initially played strong as they held Georgia Southern, a team that averages 31.1 points per game, scoreless in the first quarter. The Panthers surrendered 13 points in second quarter, and that was closest they’d get to Eagles. Their 2-10 final record is the program’s worst since it went 2-10 in 2014.

Wide receiver Penny Hart announced that he will forgo his senior season to enter the 2019 NFL Draft. He had one reception on three targets in his final game as a Panther. Hart finishes second in Georgia State history with 202 receptions and 19 receiving touchdowns and third in receiving yards with 2,950.

“[I’m feeling] anger, happiness,” Hart said. “It’s a lot of different emotions for the sole fact that we didn’t come out with the win, but I’m happy with everything that I’ve done here at this university. I have no regrets. [I] love every single one of those guys that’s in that locker room.”

This season-ending loss was nothing like the previous two games Hart played in against Georgia Southern. Hart was exceptional in the 2015 matchup when he caught six passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. In 2017, he hauled in the game-winning catch with 2:31 left in the fourth quarter. His final statline was eight receptions, 191 receiving yards and one touchdown.

Georgia Southern only outgained Georgia State in total yards 381-264 in the regular season finale.. It was the big plays running plays that separated the teams. Georgia Southern amassed 276 rushing yards, more than double of the 94 Georgia State accumulated.

2018 is Georgia State’s best rushing season in season with the program high with yards and 21 touchdowns. Head coach Shawn Elliott said Tra Barnett, the team’s leading rusher, was injured in practice during the days leading up to the game and was unable to play. The offensive line injuries that the team dealt with all season also mounted up for the Panthers.

“Georgia Southern played well defensively. They kind of kept us at bay running the football,” Elliott said. “We felt like we could run the football on them. But [it’s tough] when you lose your right tackle, you lose your starting running back, and you’ve got to put your left guard at right tackle, your right guard starting at left guard and bring back in your redshirt freshman right there [at right guard]. The offensive line, you can’t just mix and mingle.”

Wesley Fields led the Eagles in rushing with 151 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He scored a 63-yard touchdown during the fourth quarter to put Georgia Southern up 35-7. The Eagles’ passing was also sharper than Georgia State’s, although they attempted 22 fewer passes.

Shai Werts, who is more known for his running abilities, has passed well this season, but the Panther defense didn’t give much safety help. He connected with receivers for long touchdown throws of 38 and 58 yards down the middle of the field.

The turnover margin didn’t result in any points scored, but Georgia Southern, the FBS’s best in with a +22 differential, won it just like it did for the majority of the season, and Georgia State lost it per usual.

The Eagles intercepted Dan Ellington in the second quarter and went 3-and-out on the ensuing drive. Georgia State finished the regular season tied in 112th with -8 margin. But the punt helped flip the field position; the Panthers begin their drive on their on 7-yard line.

Georgia State went 3-and-out, and Georgia Southern began its next drive a yard shy of midfield at its own 49. Werts threw a well-placed 38-yard touchdown pass to Darion Anderson to put Georgia Southern up 10-0 with 2:40 remaining in the half.

The turning point of the game took place in a few minutes. Georgia State had a chance to score before halftime after Ellington quickly led a drive into Georgia Southern territory. On 3rd-and 2 at the Georgia Southern 25-yard line, Ellington was sacked, and punter and placekicker Brandon Wright went out to attempt a 47-yard field goal.

Rashad Byrd broke through the offensive line to block the kick, and Monquavion Brinson returned the ball to Georgia State’s 27-yard line. Eagles’ placekicker Tyler Bass made a 49-yard field goal to end the first half and Georgia Southern fans, which were the majority of the crowd at Georgia State Stadium, made their presence felt.

“It’s a tough ball-game,” Elliott said. “Any time you come and play your rival [and lose] and it’s the end of the year, it’s something that hurts because we understand what’s all at stake and it’s not a good feeling.”

Georgia Southern is a good third quarter team, and performed well in it again. The Eagles scored 15 points on two touchdowns in the period to take a 28-0 lead over Georgia State.

Georgia State attempted an onside kick to begin the half but georgia Southern recovered. Werts ran in an 18-yard touchdown less than 5 minutes into the third quarter and the Eagles took a 21-0 lead. He tossed his second touchdown of the game when he found Colby Ransom for 58 yards.

Georgia State avoiding the shutout when Devn Gentry caught a 7-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Ellington, who finished passing 20-of-32 for 170 yards and two touchdowns, threw a touchdown to Tamir Jones late in the quarter.

The Panthers should improve next season because of the depth they return. Returning are their starting quarterback, three leading rushers and all defensive starters except DeAndre Applin, who missed most of the season, Michael Shaw, Marterious Allen and Chase Middleton. Every key contributor on offense will be back besides Hart and center Jamal Paxton. Quarterback Aaron Winchester is leaving the program to use his final year of eligibility elsewhere.

“I really get excited when I see the future of our football program [and] when I see our teams… Huge strides [were] made with our offensive line,” Elliott said. “Huge strides [were] made in our running game. I think our quarterback is very solid. You’ve got true freshmen coming back and multiple receivers that have had great experience.”

Wright, a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s best punter, will play his senior season in 2019. He set a new Sun Belt Conference record with a 48.2 yards per punt average.

Final recruiting efforts for the class of 2019 will intensify as the early signing period ends on Dec. 21. Elliott also said in postgame press conference that the team and coaching staff will develop mentally and physically during the offseason, specifically from January through March.