Georgia State players celebrate after defeating South Alabama at Georgia State Stadium on Nov. 23, 2019. (Anthony McClellan/Georgia State Athletics)
Photo: Anthony McClellan
Photo: Anthony McClellan

Tra Barnett leads Georgia State to record-setting victory

Not even the heavy rain that pelted Georgia State Stadium to start Saturday’s game could ruin the special Senior Day for Tra Barnett and his mates, who set a regular-season record with their seventh victory in Saturday’s 28-15 win over South Alabama. 

It was especially sweet for Barnett, the running back from Elberton. He ran 23 times for 128 yards, his seventh 100-yard game of the season, and scored one touchdown. Barnett became the first player in the program’s history to surpass 2,000 career rushing yards, a mark that stands at 2,039.

“I means a lot because I know I put in the work and the time and to go out there and get the 2,000 yards with my team is a great feeling,” Barnett said. 

Afterward, he got a huge bear hug in the media area from coach Shawn Elliott, who told him, “Two thousands yards means a lot to an old offensive line coach.”

The Panthers improved to 7-4, broke a two-game losing streak and enhanced their curb appeal for onlooking bowl committees. Georgia State was 7-5 in 2017, but that included a win in the Cure Bowl. 

“You always remember that first game you play, you always remember the last game you play and you always remember senior day,” Elliott said. “And they’re going to remember this because they set a standard and they have an opportunity to go set another notch next week.”

Georgia State finishes the regular season Saturday in Statesboro against Georgia Southern.

Quarterback Dan Ellington, restricted by an injured right knee, completed 21 of 27 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns before being removed with nine minutes left. He ran four times for 12 yards and once he shown an ability to run, South Alabama had to change its defensive strategy, which helped open the running lanes for Barnett. 

The receiving corps, playing without injured Sam Pinckney and ailing Aubry Huff, got big days from Roger Carter (seven catches, 87 yards), Cornelius McCoy (seven catches, 53 yards) and Devin Gentry (four catches, 27 yards).

The Georgia State defense recorded six tackles for loss and two sacks and limited the Jaguars to converting 5-for-15 on third downs and 1-for-4 on fourth downs. Jhi’Shawn Taylor and Trajan Stephens-McQueen each had 11 tackles, and Tyler Gore added an interception. 

South Alabama took advantage of good field position after a poor punt gave the Jaguars the ball at the 48. Diego Guajardo kicked a 34-yarder for a 3-0 lead.

“The beginning of the game didn’t start we wanted to, but we just stayed the course, got into the flow and, once again, Dan Ellington was out there performing,” Elliott said. 

Georgia State got its first score with 13:14 left in the half when Destin Coates ran for a 6-yard touchdown. It was the first career score for the sophomore, who incurred a 15-yard celebration penalty for leaping into the end zone. 

The penalty was costly. South Alabama’s Tra Minter returned the kickoff 55 yards to the Georgia State 30. But the Jags came up short when an illegal block wiped out a first down and safety Chris Bacon soared to bat away a fourth-down pass and return the ball to Georgia State. 

Ellington then drove the Panthers for another touchdown. The key play was a 23-yard throw to McCoy on fourth-and-7, and Gentry caught a 5-yard pass for the score, stretching beyond the sideline to catch the ball and managing to keep his feet in bounds in the end zone. 

“The way I threw it, it was going to be him or nobody,” Ellington said. “He made a heck of a catch.”

As the rain began slow and eventually stop, Georgia State’s defense got a takeaway on the next series. South Alabama’s Carlos Davis had the ball pop loose and into the hands of Georgia State’s Victor Heyward.

The Panthers stretched the lead by scoring on their first possession of the second half. A 33-yard run by Barnett and a pass-interference call in the end zone set up Barnett for a 2-yard touchdown run and extended the lead to 21-3.

Georgia State scored again on the first play of the fourth quarter when Ellington threw to Carter for a 4-yard touchdown. 

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