Georgia State overwhelmed by Appalachian State

Destin Coates sprints downfield for a 67-yard touchdown in the first quarter of Georgia State's 56-27 home loss to Appalachian State Saturday.

Destin Coates sprints downfield for a 67-yard touchdown in the first quarter of Georgia State's 56-27 home loss to Appalachian State Saturday.

Georgia State’s hopes for a Sun Belt Conference division title ended Saturday as it was thumped by Appalachian State 56-27 at Georgia State Stadium.

The Panthers (6-4, 3-3 Sun Belt East) entered the game against the nationally-ranked Mountaineers in control of their destiny for the division title and a spot in the conference’s title game. Instead, Appalachian State (9-1, 5-1 Sun Belt East) knocked the Panthers out of the division race while maintaining its hold on first place.

An energetic crowd at Pete Petit Field - and a national TV audience on ESPNU - watched Georgia State open a 21-7 lead behind quarterback Dan Ellington, who started the game despite suffering a knee injury last week against Louisiana-Monroe, and a pair of big plays on offense and defense.

But the same national audience watched the Mountaineers, No. 25 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings, blitz the Panthers with seven unanswered touchdowns en route to the victory - their sixth straight in the series.

“Appalachian’s a good football team,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said after the game. “They’re well coached and they do things the right way. There’s a reason why they are a top 25 team.”

Elliott saved most of his post-game praise for his senior quarterback Ellington, whose 21st consecutive start at Georgia State was made with a torn ACL. His final numbers weren’t memorable - 12-of-27 passing, 88 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions - but the fact that he was even in the game according to Elliott was ‘nothing short of amazing’.

“He did it for the guys in the locker room, our coaches .... truly a testament of who that young man is,” added Elliott, who said that Ellington participated in full practice on Wednesday and Ellington’s father was consulted before the final go-ahead to play was given.

Ellington’s night began well as he directed the team on an 84-yard, nine-play scoring drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Devin Gentry and a 7-0 lead. Appalachian State responded with an eight-play, 89-yard scoring drive - the final 12 as quarterback Zac Thomas connected with a sliding Corey Sutton in the end zone - that tied the game at 7.

The Panthers used a pair of big plays within a 40-second span of the first quarter to take a 21-7 lead. Destin Coates’ 67-yard TD run, the team’s longest of the season, was followed by the season’s first defensive touchdown - a 34-yard interception return of Thomas by Chris Bacon.

The Mountaineers cut the deficit to 21-14 on their next possession with Thomas’ second TD pass to Sutton and tied the game in the second quarter as Thomas bulled his way into the end zone on a 4th-and-1 at the Georgia State 3.

Ellington threw a pair of interceptions in the second quarter - only his fifth and sixth of the season - and both were quite costly. The first was returned 30 yards for a touchdown by App State’s Shaun Jolly and the second, also by Jolly, led to Thomas’ 1-yard TD pass to Darrynton Evans 21 seconds before halftime.

“For the first 26 minutes of the first half, it was a great contest,” Elliott said. “But 14 crazy points that turned a 21-21 ballgame into 35-21 at the half, we really couldn’t recover.”

Evans added a 29-yard scoring run in the third quarter and Sutton opened the fourth quarter with a 24-yard TD pass from Thomas, his third of the game and Thomas’ fifth touchdown passing and running. The Panthers, who were averaging 485 yards of total offense per game, managed only 65 yards in the second and third quarters and had 324 yards overall.

Tucker Gregg scored on a 20-yard run for the Panthers with 5:35 remaining in the game, the team’s first offensive touchdown since Coates’ 67-yard run in the first quarter.

"I thought our effort was good and our team came out really strong," said Elliott, whose Panthers are bowl-eligible for the third time in the last five years. "But those two plays at the end of the half really took the sails out from us."

More: Play-by-play, team and individual stats, scoring recap