Georgia State starting quarterback Dan Ellington found momentum late in the season opener to push Georgia State to a 24-20 victory against Kennesaw State on Thursday night at Georgia State Stadium.

Georgia State’s final opportunity to score came on a drive that began with 2:01 left in the game. Ellington led the Panthers into the red zone and found wide receiver Diondre Champaigne in the corner of the end zone to take the team’s first lead of the game, with 41 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

“Well my coach, (wide receivers coach Trent McKnight), kept telling me to stay ready on the sidelines,” Champaigne said. “I just kept the faith, kept warming up, and I went out there and made a play.”

The Panthers held the Owls on downs and then ran out the clock for the victory.

Ellington and the Panthers failed to cross midfield in his first two drives, but found a spark late in the first quarter. Ellington gathered 30 yards on the ground during the third drive, taking the Panthers into Kennesaw State territory for the first time.

“That third drive,” Ellington said of finding his confidence. “I thought, “Yeah, I’m ready to play now. I’m good.” Then Coach called another run play, and I got hit. Then, I thought, “Yeah, I am definitely good now.” That’s when I found the confidence, and that’s when the anxious got out of me.”

However, the Panthers’ offensive momentum was halted after wide receiver Devin Gentry fumbled on the 19-yard line. Kennesaw State recovered the fumble and scored on its next drive, increasing its lead over the Panthers to 14-0.

The junior college transfer threw two touchdown passes in the second quarter, completing eight passes for 77 yards in the quarter. Panthers safety DeAndre Applin picked off Kennesaw State quarterback Chandler Burks late in the second quarter, setting the Panthers up to tie the score at 14-14 heading into halftime.

“The second quarter, the momentum switched,” defensive end Terry Thomas said. “I can’t remember what kind of play calls, but I remember my safety App (DeAndre Applin) got a pick, and that was an opportunity to put us in scoring position again.”

After the Owls tacked on two field goals in the third quarter, Ellington led the Panthers into the red zone midway through the fourth quarter, settling for a field goal to cut Kennesaw State’s lead in half. Finding momentum after a Kennesaw State fumble in the fourth quarter, Ellington led Georgia State downfield in an attempt to take its first lead of the game.

“You witnessed it out there,” coach Shawn Elliott said. “He literally willed our football team there in the end offensively to win the game.”

The Panthers won their first season opener in four years and will play at N.C. State on Sept. 8.