CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was a record-setting night for Georgia State, one that made coach Shawn Elliott happy enough to do a celebratory dance with the band in the corner of Jerry Richardson Field.
Georgia State beat Charlotte 41-25 on Saturday night, which ensured the Panthers of their first 3-0 start in program history. Wide receiver Robert Lewis set a school record with 220 yards on six catches, including a 97-yard touchdown reception – the longest play in school history. Quarterback Darren Grainger finished only five yards short of the school record for most yards passing, as he threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns. And the Panthers exacted some revenge on Charlotte for last year’s 42-41 loss.
“I talk about things that haven’t been done all the time,” Elliott said. “It was another opportunity to do something that had never been done. That’s a goal. That’s something to achieve. You’ve got to talk about them. It’s an important thing.”
Grainger completed 27 of 33 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns and ran 20 times for 23 yards and one touchdown. In addition to Lewis, Tailique Williams had five catches for 129 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown. It was the 11th time that GSU has had two receivers with 100 yards, the first since 2020. Eight different receivers caught passes.
The defense set the tone early. Charlotte went for it on a fourth-and-2, and GSU’s Kevin Swint grabbed Jairus Mack for a 2-yard loss. Seven plays later the Panthers had a 7-0 lead on Grainger’s 8-yard keeper.
“It keeps points off the board, but it energizes our football team,” said Elliott, whose team later caused Charlotte to turn the ball over on downs after having first-and-goal at the 3. “Those are big momentum things. Those are turnovers.”
After Liam Rickman kicked a 26-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead, GSU’s Gavin Pringle made a nice interception, his second of the season, on the sideline at the 3. Despite being backed up, Elliott encouraged offensive coordinator and play-caller Trent McKnight to dial up something dramatic. On the next play Grainger threw to Lewis on the left side, and he ran 97 yards for the record touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
“Coach Elliott wanted to take a shot, and it was good for us,” Grainger said.
Lewis said, “They called our number to hopefully make a play, and I did. I did slow down some at the end, my legs were kind of gassed, but I had to get into the end zone.”
Charlotte, under first-year coach Biff Poggi, punched back to scored 10 points. But Georgia State regained a little momentum with a one-minute drill that ended with Rickman’s 46-yard field goal at the first-half horn for a 20-10 lead.
“To get that field goal right before the half was a great momentum builder,” Elliott said. “And then, like last week, the first two possessions right after halftime, we take them down to score.”
Charlotte had to punt on its opening possession of the second half when sophomore Josiah Robinson produced a 12-yard sack. Georgia State scored on a 78-yard pass to Williams, then forced another punt – this one predicated by Pringle’s 12-yard sack – and upped the lead to 34-10 on Marcus Carroll’s 1-yard run.
The 49ers still had life after a pair of big plays – a 58-yard run by quarterback Jalon Jones and a 46-yard punt return by Henry Rutledge – but Georgia State doused any hopes of a comeback by scoring on a 38-yard pass to Lewis.
Georgia State gained a season-high 568 yards, even though the Panthers were held to a season-low 102 yards rushing. Carroll was limited to 67 yards on 20 carries, his first game without 100 yards.
“It really feels good,” Lewis said. “It’s great to be 3-0, and we’re going to celebrate tonight, but we can’t be satisfied because we’ve got to go next Thursday and play a good opponent, Coastal Carolina. Hopefully we can keep it going.”