Georgia State coughs up 17-point lead in loss

Quarterback Nick Arbuckle hands off to Kyler Neal on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014.

Credit: Randy Wilson

Credit: Randy Wilson

Quarterback Nick Arbuckle hands off to Kyler Neal on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014.

Georgia State will have to wait for its first winning streak.

Because of a litany of mistakes, the Panthers blew a 17-point first-half lead and a four-point lead in the final 2 1/2 minutes to lose 34-31 to New Mexico State on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

“We have to learn how to finish the deal,” coach Trent Miles said. “You can’t allow a team to get back in it.”

Georgia State (1-1) was attempting to win its second consecutive game, something it hadn’t done since winning four consecutive in the inaugural 2010 season. But four turnovers, two of which were turned into 10 points, seven penalties and an inability to stop the Aggies’ running game (194 yards) contributed to Georgia State’s first loss this season.

The Aggies (2-0) clinched the win with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Rogers to Teldrick Morgan, who was mostly open in the middle of the field and not hit until the 1-yard line, with 15 seconds left. Miles said there was a blown coverage on the play, the last of what he said were four on the drive and part of a long line of mistakes throughout the last three quarters that allowed the Aggies to rally.

“In the first half our effort was outstanding, but we didn’t do enough to separate,” Miles said.

Georgia State seemed to have the game won several times, the last when quarterback Nick Arbuckle bulled in from a yard out on a fourth-and-goal play with 2:30 left to give the Panthers a 31-27 lead.

“I felt we did (have the win),” Arbuckle said. “I have full confidence in our defense. I know if we go out there in that situation nine times out of 10 we make the stop.”

But the Aggies had no trouble moving 83 yards down the field against a Georgia State defense that declined to bring pressure, as it did throughout the game. The Panthers typically rushed three men, which allowed Rogers to go 25-of-44 for 241 yards and three touchdowns. The Panthers failed to post a sack.

It will be a loss that stings because Georgia State built a 17-0 lead in the first half on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Arbuckle to Donovan Harden, a 38-yard field goal by Wil Lutz and an 8-yard run by Krysten Hammon.

Georgia State had a chance to make the score 24-0 after the defense stuffed Rogers for no gain on fourth-and-1 play at the 36 early in the second half.

Instead, the offense went three-and-out and gave the Aggies hope, a recurring theme for the rest of the game.

“I feel like when we got up we relaxed a little bit,” said Hammon, who rushed 25 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns. “We should have done the complete opposite.”

After New Mexico State cut the lead to 17-10, another chance late in the first half was wasted on a fumble by Arbuckle, who was trying to switch the ball from his right hand to his left on a second-and-8 at the 12.

After a touchdown by Hammon to open the second half, the Aggies again cut Georgia State’s lead to a touchdown, 24-17, on a 36-yard scoring pass from Rogers to Morgan. Safety Nate Simon appeared to be in position to tip the pass, but missed the ball, allowing Morgan to catch it along the sideline, turn and run to the end zone with 9:21 left in the third quarter.

“Nate was in a perfect position,” linebacker Joseph Peterson said. “A 50-50 play, we have to make it.”

Georgia State’s next mistake — a fumble by Hammon running what looked to be the same play that led to his touchdowns — led to a 30-yard field goal for New Mexico State that cut the Panthers’ lead to 24-20 with 14:16 left.