Shocky Top: Panthers stun Volunteers at Neyland Stadium with a 38-30 win

The Panthers celebrate following a 38-30 upset against the Tennessee Volunteers. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

Updated 6:43 PM ET, Sun September 1, 2019


The travelling fans in blue and white celebrated like they had just won the Super Bowl. The players, in a state of euphoria, could barely contain their joy. Just last season, the team had only won two games and looked lost. On perhaps the program’s most historic Saturday afternoon, they had just pulled off the impossible and defeated the Tennessee Volunteers on their own turf. 

“I don’t think anybody else in the country believed that a program of a mere ten years old could come in here to Neyland Stadium and beat [the Tennessee Volunteers],” Head Coach Shawn Elliott said.

The victory was Georgia State’s first over a Power Five conference in school history. 

The underdogs could not have asked for a better start. After Ed Curney and the defense recovered a quick fumble, Dan Ellington and the Panthers offense took full advantage and found themselves ahead within the first couple of minutes. Seth Paige capped off the 23-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown rush, stunning Neyland Stadium into silence and sending the visiting Panther fans into a jubilant celebration.

Looking to respond right away, the Volunteers offense marched down the field and leveled things at seven a piece. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was the star of the drive, eventually finding Marquez Callaway with an inch-perfect back shoulder throw for the six-yard score. Neyland Stadium regained its voice.

The Volunteers soon capitalized on their newfound momentum and took a 14-7 lead with nine seconds left in the first quarter. Junior running back Ty Chandler broke loose for a 31-yard scamper, as Neyland Stadium exploded into life. 

The Panthers began the second quarter with possession, looking to re-establish a foothold on the game. Dan Ellington found Roger Carter with an impressive 28-yard pass to place the offense inside the Volunteers’ half. Three straight incompletions halted the drive, though.

The Volunteers took over, but were stopped. The Panthers defense got a much needed confidence booster and gave the offense a chance to turn the screws.

Ellington wasted no time and marched his men down the field, the offense eventually finding themselves on Tennessee’s 19-yard line with 3:31 left in the half. Ellington would eventually find Cornelius McCoy with a 17-yard pass to cap an 81-yard drive and level the score at 14 with 3:11 left in the first half. Shawn Elliott’s men were not backing down. 

The Volunteers grabbed a 19-yard field goal to take a 17-14 lead into halftime, but it was the Panthers who held their heads highest as the teams headed back to the locker rooms. 

Having deferred in the first half, the Panthers began the second half with possession. Seth Paige broke open a 15-yard run, breaking multiple tackles in the process, to spot the ball at midfield. Ellington later found Tra Barnett with a 12-yard completion and followed up with an 11-yard completion to tight end Aubry Payne to advance the offense to the Tennessee 25-yard line.

A couple plays later and the Panthers found the endzone. Ellington found Payne for a six-yard score to give the Panthers a 21-17 lead with 10:30 on the third quarter clock. The 75-yard drive gave the team a dream second half start. 

The Volunteers needed to respond. With whispers echoing around Neyland Stadium of a potential upset, Guarantano and his offense had to extinguish any and all doubts. The Panthers defense made sure that did not come true. 

Jeremy Pruitt kept his offense on the field for a fourth-and-one, but Tyler Gore broke up Guarantano’s pass and sent the Georgia State sideline into pandemonium. Elliott’s men were beginning to dream.

“It was a joy to sit back and see the confidence in our guy’s eyes,” Elliott said. “It just continued to pump throughout the second half.”

The Volunteers got a much-needed score with 3:32 left in the third quarter. Cimaglia’s 48-yarder was the definition of picture perfect. The junior’s kick went clean through the uprights, much to the relief of those in orange and white.

Looking to respond, the Panthers utilized their no-huddle offense to perfection, quickly finding themselves in Tennessee territory as the third quarter came to an end. The Panthers were driving and only one quarter away from one of the upsets of the season.

The Volunteers defense was having none of it, though. After heavy pressure, Ellington fumbled the football and handed possession back to Tennessee. A few plays later, the Volunteers were knocking on the Panthers’ doorstep, but could only muster a field goal. Tennessee claimed a 23-21 lead, but the Panthers were still in the contest.

Ellington looked to brush off his costly fumble on the following drive. The Panthers again found themselves in Tennessee territory after Ellington found McCoy across the middle to spot the ball at the 44 yard line.

Two plays later, Ellington found Terrance Dixon for a 14-yard gain to put the Panthers in field goal range. Soon after, Tra Barnett found the endzone after a 19-yard run. The Panthers offensive line, a standout on the day, opened up a huge hole, and the team re-established a 28-23 lead with 8:56 left in the contest. 

“I received a lot of questions about my offensive line,” Ellington said. “I told everybody that they were going to be a really good line and they proved it today.”

After the defense forced another fumble, Ellington and the offense all but settled things. The senior quarterback solidified his inspirational performance with a 22-yard run and score and the Panthers took a 35-23 lead with 4:45 to go. Ellington’s stat line said it all. The senior  finished with 200 all purpose yards and three touchdowns.

“I am so proud to be [Ellington’s] football coach,” Elliott said.

Tennessee looked deflated and boos began to rain down from the stands. The Panthers were closing in on history and the Volunteers were inching ever so close to opening day embarrassment. 

A Guarantano interception sealed the Volunteers’ fate. The Panthers defense sprinted to their travelling fans to celebrate. A few plays later, Brandon Wright drilled a 48-yarder to give the Panthers a 38-23 lead. The team had shocked the world.

Tennessee managed to secure a consolation score, but as the clock struck zero, the Panthers’ wildest dreams had come true. The 38-30 victory will surely go down as one of, if not the, most historic victories in program history. 

“This was one of the greatest days of my life,” Curney said.