Kennesaw State initially stunned its first-ever FBS opponent Thursday by taking a 14-0 lead in the season opener, but too many mistakes handed the 24-20 win to Georgia State.
The final blow came when Panthers quarterback Dan Ellington threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Diondre Champaigne with 41 seconds to play that completed the Georgia State comeback.
“I think we could have closed the game out, but we didn’t. … It’s the ebb and flow of a football game and we didn’t find a way to finish when we had an opportunity,” Owls coach Brian Bohannon said.
The primary problem for the visiting Owls was Ellington’s arm, legs and his sturdy offensive line.
Ellington, a junior-college transfer, was 20-of-28 passing for 187 yards and three touchdowns in his debut as a Panther.
With his team down two touchdowns in the second quarter, Ellington was exceptionally explosive while leading the Panthers to score two touchdowns in 47 seconds by completing 8 of 8 passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 28 yards.
The Owls, who chose a pass heavy attack Thursday and finished the game with 201 passing yards and 181 rushing yards, also struggled on offense. They committed three turnovers — and the Panthers scored touchdowns after two of them.
The first, an interception, occurred with 50 seconds left in the first half and gave way to the Panthers’ second touchdown in less than a minute and tied the score at 14-14.
Throwing only the eighth interception of his career, Kennesaw State quarterback Chandler Burks was 12-of-19 for 201 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The second Owls turnover was a fumble late in the fourth quarter on the Panthers’ 36-yard line and the third was a turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter that led way for the Panthers to march 73 yards in 1:20 and score the winning touchdown with 41 seconds on the clock.
The Owls offense also failed to punch the ball into the end zone in the second half, scoring only two field goals, both in the third quarter. What would have been a career-long 60-yard reception by Shaquil Terry in the third quarter that put the Owls on the Panthers’ 15-yard line was negated as the Owls were called for a false-start penalty and settled for a 24-yard field goal after a missed touchdown pass to Justin Sumpter.
“They fly around, and they played fundamental football. At the end of the day … it all boils down to them making more plays than us,” Burks said.
Penalties did the Owls in, as they totaled seven penalties worth 65 yards, several of them making way for the Panthers to enter the red zone.
The Owls look for their first win when they travel to Tennessee Tech on Sept. 6.
“That’s probably going to be our biggest challenge, is shaking this one because this one hurt,” Bohannon said.