Georgia State opened its season Saturday with the biggest victory in program history.
The Panthers traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., and knocked off the Tennessee Volunteers 38-30 at Neyland Stadium, scoring first and then sending a message throughout the day that the early lead, though coming off a turnover, was no fluke.
The Panthers took a 28-23 lead with 8:56 to play in the fourth quarter. The Panthers briefly held a 29-23 lead after Tra Barnett’s 19-yard touchdown run when they converted a two-point conversion, but an offensive pass interference penalty negated the points and pushed the Panthers’ point-after attempt 15 yards back, so Brandon Wright kicked the extra point.
With 7:10 to play, Guarantano fumbled when he was sacked hard on a blitz by cornerback Evan Jones. Linebacker Jhi’Shawn Taylor recovered the ball at the Tennessee 39. The Panthers took advantage of the turnover when Dan Ellington scored on a quarterback keeper, going 22 yards for a touchdown with 4:45 to play in the game.
Trajan Stephens-McQueen’s interception with 4:14 to play sealed the victory, setting up a 48-yard field goal by Brandon Wright with 2:37 left to play that gave GSU a 38-23 lead.
“It means the world for our university, our football program,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott told the Associated Press after the game.
The Vols’ Jauan Jennings scored on an 18-yard pass play with two seconds to play that made the score look a little better for the Vols.
Georgia State outgained Tennessee 213-93 in rushing yards, and the Panthers had 24 first downs to the Vols’ 21. GSU edged Tennessee in time of possession, 30:34-29:26.
The Panthers scored first on a 4-yard run by Seth Paige three minutes into the game, with a Tennessee turnover giving Georgia State the ball. Ty Chandler fumbled on the second play from scrimmage, and Ed Curney recovered the ball on the Tennessee 23.
Six plays later, Paige scored.
Tennessee responded with a 16-play, 78-yard drive that ended in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Guarantano to Marquez Callaway that tied the score at 7-7.
The Vols took the lead at 14-7 after a 31-yard run by Chandler with nine seconds left in the first quarter.
Georgia State continued to pester the Vols, marching on a long drive of its own. Ellington threw a 17-yard pass to Cornelius McCoy for a touchdown with 3:11 to play before halftime that capped a 16-play, 81-yard drive.
A 19-yard field goal by Brent Cimaglia as time expired gave Tennessee a 17-14 lead at halftime.
Georgia State got the ball to start the second half and drove 75 yards on nine plays, ending with Ellington’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Aubry Payne with 10:30 to play in the third quarter that gave GSU a 21-17 lead.
Cimaglia kicked a 48-yard field goal with 3:32 to play in the third, cutting the GSU lead to one, at 21-20.
Four minutes into the fourth quarter, Ellington fumbled, and Tennessee recovered at the Vols 24. On the ensuing drive, Tennessee took the lead at 23-21 with a 31-yard field goal by Cimaglia.
This is the 10th season of football at Georgia State. The first game Sept. 2, 2010, produced a 41-7 win against Shorter. The Panthers joined the Sun Belt Conference and FBS for the 2013 season. Since joining the conference, Georgia State was 19-54 entering Saturday’s play and was 2-10 last season.
Georgia State received $950,000 from Tennessee to play the game.