The college football season kicked into high gear Wednesday night at the Georgia Dome. Georgia State football kicked off the 2014 season with a thrilling 38-37 win against Abilene Christian behind a Will Lutz 26 yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining, snapping a 16 game losing streak.
Photo by Ralph Hernandez | The Signal
The Abilene Christian offense drove down the field to open the game converting two early third downs before failing to convert on third down inside the Panthers’ 3 yard line as Marcus Caffey turned away the pass attempt from Abilene Christian quarterback Parker McKenzie. Abilene Christian settled for a Nik Grau 25 yard field goal.
The Panthers moved the ball well in their first possession, going 69 yards on 14 plays, including three sideline screen passes to Robert Davis. A fourth Arbuckle pass intended for Davis was intercepted by Abilene Christian’s safety Angel Lopez and returned 12 yards.
Later in the first quarter Georgia State struck gold in the end zone as Arbuckle hooked up with tight end Joel Ruiz and he raced for a 34 yard touchdown. The Panthers leaned heavily on the running of there freshman running back Krysten Hammond in the first two drives. Hammond ran for 44 yards on eight carries in the first two series of his college career before being sidelined for two quarters with a thigh contusion. Hammond did return to the game and finished as the game’s leading rusher with 78 yards on 13 carries.
The Panthers would strike again early in the second quarter with fullback Jonathan Lytle’s 2 yard plunge into the end zone giving Georgia State a 14-3 lead which was set up by 12 play 73 yard drive.
The Wildcats would storm back with 13 straight points until Arbuckle connected with Avery Sweeting on a 41 yard rocket for a touchdown with 14 seconds left in the first half.
“I was going for the home run play. I knew I was throwing that post route whether that safety was there or not. I have full trust in Avery. I’ve thrown to some fast receivers in my time, but I’ve never really thrown to anybody as fast as Avery [Sweeting] I know that he can beat anybody,” Arbuckle said of his strike to Sweeting before the half.
The Wildcats would answer again with 14 straight points, which included a 23 yard touchdown connection of McKenzie to Jamie Walker to give Abilene Christian a 23-21 lead with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter.
Later in the third quarter a targeting penalty in which by rule called for the ejection of Panthers safety Tarris Batiste set up Abilene Christian’s next play. It was a 24 yard touchdown pass from McKenzie to Jace Hudson giving the Wildcats a 30-21 lead over the Panthers. At this point, many fans in attendance began to head for the exits.
The next Georgia State possession was halted with an interception by Abilene Christian cornerback Justin Stewart.
The Panthers had lost the momentum before a McKenzie pass was tipped and snatched out of the sky by linebacker Joseph Peterson and returned 28 yards into Abilene Christian territory.
Georgia State would return to the end zone when Arbuckle hooked up with senior Lynquez Blair on a 27 yard touchdown pass. Abilene Christian quickly answered back with a McKenzie 7 yard touchdown pass to Cade Stone putting the Willdcats up 37-28 with 6:36 left in the fourth quarter.
The bell rang and once again Arbuckle marched the Panthers’ offense down the field and pushed them into the end zone with a 9 yard touchdown pass to Joel Ruiz putting the score at 37-35.
Georgia State was able to come up with the much needed stop to leave Arbuckle and the offense with 2:41 remaining in the game.
Arbuckle proceeded with a masterful drive converting two fourth downs and having a touchdown taken off the board due to a holding penalty. This was one of the themes of the night for the Panthers who had a total of 12 penalties for 99 yards.
Arbuckle nip and tucked the offense into Lutz’s field goal range. With a few daring passes and desperate scrambles. Lutz calmly stepped in a nailed the 26 yard field goal and sending Georgia State’s sideline into a frenzy.
“Being able to pull out a win in that fashion is just awesome for the guys and them getting me down there is all on them. Can’t take the credit for it,” Lutz said.
Lutz kicked Trent Miles to his first victory as head coach of the panthers.
“Very excited for the Panther Family. The students, the administration, the faculty and anybody that has anything to do with Georgia State University. Our kids fought through a lot of adversity. They never quit believing the whole time they believed in themselves and they believed in the fact that we were going to win the game no matter what,” Coach Miles said of his team after Wednesday’s victory.
Miles also remarked that he would enjoy the victory for “another hour” before moving on to game planning for their next opponent–New Mexico State.
Arbuckle who made his debut with the panthers came within two yards of breaking Drew Little’s school record for passing yards in a game which was 414. Arbuckle had 413 passing yards along with four touchdowns.
“I was really one yard short? I really regret checking to that quarterback draw now [chuckles]. Should’ve thrown that five yard hitch I guess. I wish I would’ve known that or somebody would’ve told me. But I guess I’ll try for 415 another game [chuckles]. But anytime we can get a win it’s nice,” Arbuckle said after finding out he came up just a little shy of the record.
Other standouts were tight end Joel Ruiz who hauled in two touchdown passes with seven receptions with 111 yards receiving. Lynquez Blair led the team in receiving yards with 118 and a touchdown catch. Robert Davis added eight receptions for 90 yards
The rushing load was split among three backs as Hammond, Kyler Neal both missed time with injuries though Hammond returned from his thigh contusion. Neal added to Hammond’s 78 yards with 47 yards on eight carries. Duvall Smith carried five times for 8 yards.
Joesph Peterson led the defense in tackles with 11 and a monumental momentum shifting interception in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers are now 1-0 and will look to build a winning streak against New Mexico State on Sept. 6, 2014 at the Georgia Dome at 2 p.m.
Check out our full gallery below of the game. All photos by Ralph Hernandez.