There were plenty of reasons for Georgia State running back Trae Barnett to celebrate on Saturday. Not only did the senior set a pair of school records, he helped the Panthers defeat Troy 52-33 at Georgia State Stadium and become bowl eligible for the second time in three years.
“It’s great to be bowl eligible, don’t get me wrong,” coach Shawn Elliott said. “But we still have an opportunity to do so much more than go to a bowl game and that’s why I’m so proud.”
Barnett rushed a career-high 34 times for a school-record 242 yards and scored two touchdowns in Georgia State’s fourth consecutive win. The final 41 yards – which broke the previous record of 201 yards -- came on a fourth-and-1 when Barnett burst through the line and outraced the Troy defenders to the end zone to seal the victory.
“I was just playing the game and whatever comes with it comes with it,” Barnett said. “I was focused on winning. My offensive line was doing a great job.”
Barnett became Georgia State’s all-time rushing leader; he has 1,631 yards and surpassed Travis Evans, who had 1,500. He broke Donald Russell’s single-season rushing record. Barnett has 928 yards; Russell ran for 747 yards in 2012. Barnett easily bested his old mark of 161 yards set a year ago against Coastal Carolina.
Georgia State ran the ball at a record pace again. The Panthers rushed for 390 yards, breaking the school mark for the third time this season. It was the third time in four games the Panthers have topped the 300-yard mark. Sophomore Seth Paige carried nine times for 109 yards, including a 65-yarder, and one touchdown.
The success on the ground came against a Troy defense that ranked first in the Sun Belt against the run, allowing only 93.3 yards per game.
“When you go rush for 390 yards when they knew that’s what we were going to do … run after run after run,” Elliott said. “I’m an offensive line coach at heart and when you can go and do that, nothing is better than imposing your will.”
Quarterback Dan Ellington completed 18 of 25 passes for 189 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He ran 11 times for 32 yards
The Panthers (6-2, 3-1 Sun Belt) led by as many as 21 points in the second half, but didn’t put the game away until Ellington tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Roger Carter with 3:51 remaining to restore an 18-point lead.
Troy (3-4, 1-2) was led by quarterback Kaleb Barker, the top-rated passer in the Sun Belt Conference. He completed 34 of 45 passes for 421 yards and two touchdowns. But Georgia State made him pay, sacking the senior four times.
Georgia State scored on its first possession when Ellington went untouched off the left side for a 19-yard touchdown run.
After Troy had two empty possession – a three-and-out and a missed field goal – the Trojans scored a takeaway that turned the rest of the half into a shootout. Ellington threw high to tight end Aubry Payne and the ball glanced off his hands and bounced of Troy’s Dell Pettus and into the arms of Jarvis Hayes.
Troy converted the turnover into points, with D.K. Billingsley scoring on a 10-yard run to tie the game 7-7.
Georgia State regained the lead on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Payne, who caught a pass that was tipped by Troy’s K.J. Robertson and stepped over another tackler at the 2.
After Troy turned the ball over on downs at the 35, the Panthers struck again when Paige went through a hole on the left side for a 65-yard touchdown run. It was the team’s longest run of the season and the second-longest in Paige’s career; he holds the school record for an 82-yarder last season at Louisiana.
Troy cut the lead to 21-14 when Billingsley scored on a 2-yard run, one play after Barker and Tray Eafford hooked up for a 64-yard catch-and-run.
Georgia State answered with a 75-yard drive that culminated in Barnett’s 5-yard touchdown run, putting the Panthers ahead 28-14 at halftime.
The Panthers went ahead 35-14 after a 16-play drive that took 6:55 off the clock. Ellington finished with a 1-yard run.
Georgia State is off next week. The Panthers play again on Nov. 9 against Louisiana Monroe.
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