Georgia State overcomes turnovers with big second half, wins Saturday

(DAVID BARNES / AJC file)
(DAVID BARNES / AJC file)

Credit: DAVID BARNES / AJC file

Credit: DAVID BARNES / AJC file

After turning the ball over four times in the first half, Georgia State scored 24 consecutive points in the second half Saturday to post a 31-14 come-from-behind victory over South Alabama in Mobile and keep the team’s dream of a winning record intact.

Georgia State (4-4, 3-4 Sun Belt) finishes the season next week with a home game against rival Georgia Southern. South Alabama (3-6, 2-4) lost its fourth consecutive game and for the third consecutive time to the Panthers.

“It could have gotten really ugly really quick, and we could have been completely out of the game,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “Our defense stood strong and really paved the way for us to get on track offensively.”

All three touchdowns during the surge came on carries from junior Tucker Gregg, who scored on runs of 3, 33 and 1 yards. Michael Hayes, subbing for regular kicker Noel Ruiz, added a 23-yard field goal during the flurry.

It was a record day for receiver Sam Pinckney. The sophomore caught five passes for a personal-best 176 yards, sixth best in program history and only 15 yards shy of Penny Hart’s record. Pinckney’s fourth 100-yard game of the season included a crucial 65-yard gain that set up the tying touchdown.

Quarterback Quad Brown overcame three first-half interceptions to throw for a career-high 334 yards. Brown completed 19 of 28 passes and connected with Roger Carter and Jamyest Williams for five completions to each.

The Georgia State defense came up with a school-record seven sacks against the overmatched South Alabama line. Jordan Strachan had two sacks and three tackles for loss. Hardrick Willis had 1½ sacks, giving him the school’s career record of 11½. The Panthers were playing out defensive lineman Dontae Willis and play-making safety Antavious Lane.

“I can’t say enough about our defense,” Elliott said. “They go out there and hunt. They hunt like animals out there. Maybe its growth and maturation, but I like what I’m seeing.”

The momentum changed after Jared Wilson’s 7-yard run gave South Alabama a 14-7 lead with 6:11 left in the third quarter. Georgia State responded with a three-play drive, sparked by Pinckney’s 65-yard catch and finished by Gregg’s run.

“To me that was the turning point of the ballgame,” Elliott said. “When they went down and scored. If we’d come out and fiddled around and punted it back to them, it could have been a momentum change.”

Instead the momentum turned to Georgia State. The Panthers took their first lead on the next possession when Gregg found a large hole and raced 33 yards for the touchdown.

The score was tied 7-7 at halftime despite Georgia State turning the ball over four times – once on a fumble and three times on interceptions.

On the second play of the game, the Panthers threw an interception that was picked off by South Alabama’s Christian Bell. Three plays later the Jaguars scored on a 17-yard run by Carlos Davis.

The three other turnovers stymied potential scoring drives. Running back Destin Coates fumbled at the end of a tough run, and South Alabama recovered at the Georgia State 19.

The Georgia State defense got tough and forced a punt, but South Alabama’s Jack Brooks pinned the Panthers down at the 4. Brown engineered a 16-play, 96-yard drive that consumed 6:28. Brown scored on a 1-yard keeper to tie the score at 7-7 with 13:25 remaining.

The Panthers stopped the Jaguars on downs thanks to Jordan Strachan’s third-down sack and Blake Carroll’s tackle for loss on fourth down. But Brown, operating from a non-traditional formation, was intercepted again to stop the momentum.

This time it was Georgia State’s turn to create a turnover. Terrion Avery had the ball knocked loose and recovered by Jaylon Jones, a play that was reviewed and confirmed.

After an exchange of punts, the Panthers drove to the 15 before Brown’s pass was intercepted on a nice play by Devin Rockette.

“We came back in the locker room and had a good talk,” Elliott said. “We talked about why that happened and what we could do. We knew if we played a clean second half we’d have a chance.”

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