Defense lifts Georgia State to win at Troy

DAVID BARNES / AJC file
DAVID BARNES / AJC file

Credit: DAVID BARNES / AJC file

Credit: DAVID BARNES / AJC file

The Georgia State defense, which was barbecued for 59 points in its previous game, rode to the rescue Saturday by creating four turnovers, a pair of them momentum-changers, that enabled the Panthers to score an important 36-34 road victory over Troy.

An interception by Antavious Lane and a fumble and recovery by Michael Strachan, one of two in the game, set up two of Georgia State’s three third-quarter scores that turned the game around. An interception by Cameron Sims with 5:32 put the Panthers in great position.

“Those turnovers were big,” Strachan said. “We needed them to get the momentum back.”

But the outcome wasn’t sealed until Troy’s Jacob Free’s two-point conversion attempt was overthrown. The Trojans got a final chance when Georgia State’s Destin Coates fumbled with 1:20 remaining. Troy covered the 47 yards in seven plays and Todd threw to Reggie Todd for an 11-yard score with 37 seconds left.

Troy recovered the onside kick, but did so before the ball traveled the required 10 yards. The Panthers then ran out the clock.

It was the second consecutive year that Georgia State (2-2, 1-2 Sun Belt) has beaten the Trojans (3-2, 1-1) and its first victory in Troy.

Coates returned after missing last week and surpassed 100 yards for the third time. He rushed 25 times for 115 yards. Quarterback Quad Brown completed 20 of 30 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns, but was limited to 13 yards rushing on 10 carries. Tight end Roger Carter caught seven passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.

Free came off the bench to complete 24 of 38 passes for 329 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. But Georgia State limited Troy to 40 yards rushing, the second-fewest in school history.

Although Georgia State was without Hardrick Willis, the top pass rusher, and Quavian Brown, its best cornerback, the Panthers did have defensive coordinator Nate Fuqua back on the sideline.

“Having our defensive coordinator back had a lot to do with it,” coach Shawn Elliott said. “To be a great defensive team, you’ve got to be together. We were fortunate because a lot of players had to step up.”

Cornerback Bryquise Brown, starting for White, had five tackles. Javon Denis started in place of Hardrick and had three tackles and shared a sack. Linebacker Trajan Stephens-McQueen led the team with nine total tackles.

Georgia State scored on its first possession for the third consecutive game. Brown found Roger Carter for a 10-yard touchdown pass, Carter’s third of the season.

Troy tied the score with an 87-yard drive and scored on a 10-yard slant pass from Gunnar Watson to Fairburn’s Khalil McClain with 58 seconds left.

Watson was shaken up on the touchdown pass when he was slammed in the ribs by Blake Carroll. Watson, a sophomore from Taylor County, was examined in the tent and taken to the locker room. He did not return and backup Jason Free played the remainder of the game.

Georgia State got three points on its next drive, settling for a 46-yard field goal from Noel Ruiz, and a 10-7 lead.

That’s when disaster stuck for the Panthers. Georgia State quarterback Quad Brown’s pass was deflected into the hands of Reddy Stewart, who returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. On the second play after getting the ball back, Brown fumbled while being taken down by Will Choloh, and the ball popped into the arms of lineman Shakel Brown, who carried it 21 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, the Trojans had a 21-10 lead.

Georgia State trimmed the lead to 21-13 on a 31-yard field goal by Ruiz.

Georgia State got back in the game with a turnover of its own to start the third quarter. Troy moved the ball to the 8 when Free’s pass was picked off in the end zone by Lane, who returned it to the Panthers' 42.

GSU needed seven plays to reach the end zone and scored when Tucker Gregg took a handoff over the right side on fourth-and-2 for a 27-yard touchdown. A successful two-point conversion pass was overturned by a penalty, so an extra point by Ruiz left Troy with a 21-20 lead at the 9:02 mark.

The Panthers took the lead when Brown found Carter for a 36-yard touchdown. The kick was blocked, but Georgia State had regained the lead 26-21. It was the ninth touchdown of Carter’s career.

Georgia State padded its lead after Strachan sacked Free, forced a fumble and recovered it. The Panthers scored five plays later on Brown’s 2-yard run for a 33-21 advantage.

“We had the poise to take control in the third quarter,” Elliott said.

Troy scored on a 2-yard throw from Free to tight end A.J. Lewis, but Georgia State answered with a 37-yard field goal by Ruiz with 6:54 left that gave the Panthers a 36-28 lead.

“It was an ugly win,” Elliott said. “But ugly win, pretty win ... I don’t care.”

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