The Panthers are the 2020 LendingTree Bowl champions

The Georgia State Panthers defeated the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 39-21 in the LendingTree Bowl Saturday afternoon.

This bowl is the second win for the Panthers in their fourth appearance, and the team made it count.

After a Quad Brown interception led to a rocky 7-0 deficit for Georgia State, head coach Shawn Eliott knew his team needed to lock-in and focus.

“I was hot after that interception. That’s not how you win the game,” Elliott said regarding the miscommunication. 

The freshman and the whole team never looked back. The Panthers roared back with 27 unanswered points in the first half. 

Then, the Panthers balanced offensive attack proved too much for the Hilltoppers. 

Vaunted on their opening drive, Georgia State’s offense lived up to its reputation, scoring 27 points in the first half to go up 27-7 at halftime.

The Panthers dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for nearly 35 minutes.

Coming into the game, the Western Kentucky quarterback Tyrell Pigrome threw zero interceptions, but the Panthers picked him off twice in the first half. The Panther defense also sacked the quarterback three times. 

Hilltoppers head coach Sherrie Dyal described just how dominant the Panthers’ defense was after the game.

“They have a good pass rush and got after the quarterback,” Dyal said.

Along with the solid run defense, the Panthers thrived on the ground themselves. Running back Destin Coates gassed the Hilltoppers with 117 yards a touchdown while averaging just over five yards a carry. 

After throwing an interception on the second drive, Brown settled in and obliterated a talented Hilltopper defense. Brown threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns in his first bowl game.

He was named MVP of the game but gave all the credit to the talent around him.

“I knew if I distributed the ball to the playmakers, we would recover after the interception,” Brown said.

Coming out of halftime, the Hilltoppers marched down the field and scored to make it 27-14, but the Panthers settled and only allotted 21 points on the day. 

One reason for the 21 points: Georgia State held Western Kentucky to 284 total yards and forced three turnovers for the game. 

In the fourth quarter, Elliott pulled Brown for Mikele Colasurdo, who, just months ago, thought that he would not play this season. Colasurdo made an immediate impact after entering and threw his first touchdown of the season to Cadarrius Thompson to put the nail in the coffin for the Hilltoppers 39-21 with 5:20 remaining. 

Colasurdo’s story is just one piece of a unified program. A solidified threat in the Sun Belt Conference, the team has much to hold their heads up.

“I’m very proud of the men of the locker room and everything they stand for,” Elliott said.

With the win, the Panthers even up their bowl record at 2-2 and finish the 2020 season at six wins. Even with a tumultuous season that saw the Panthers lose two games off the schedule, the Panthers rose to the challenge. 

“It’s truly special for all of us with everything we’ve been through this season,” Elliott said.