Short-handed Georgia State loses in shootout amid COVID-19 issues

DAVID BARNES / AJC file

Credit: David Barnes

Credit: David Barnes

The Georgia State football team went into Thursday’s game without two of its top offensive weapons and fell just short of an upset, losing to Arkansas State 59-52 in a Sun Belt Conference shootout in Jonesboro, Ark.

Georgia State matched Arkansas State blow-for-blow until coming up empty on a fourth-down conversion with two minutes left that allowed the Red Wolves to run out the clock.

Georgia State (1-2, 0-2 Sun Belt) played without leading rusher Destin Coates and second-leading receiver Cornelius McCoy. Both were left at home, along with defensive coordinator Nate Fuqua, because of COVID-19 concerns.

“The effort was there, and we went out and played our hardest against a good team and came up short,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “We’re dealing with a situation we have no control over, dealing with COVID. You just have to roll with the punches. We were short some players and a coach and came out on the short end of things.”

Panthers quarterback Quad Brown completed 18 of 35 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns. But Brown missed on his final three throws, including a fourth-and-5 pass to Sam Pinckney.

Pinckney caught six passes for 146 yards, his second consecutive game with 100-plus yards, and three touchdowns. Tucker Gregg got the start for Coates and rushed 14 times for 142 yards and one touchdown.

“We’ve got playmakers and with Destin out, Tucker stepped in and Sam had a hell of a ballgame,” Elliott said. “The great thing is we were able to spread the ball around. They were workhorses tonight.”

Georgia State amassed 583 total yards, but allowed 609 yards and permitted the Red Wolves to convert on 3-of-4 fourth-down plays.

All but 58 of those yards came through the air, as the Panthers couldn’t stop either of the two Arkansas State quarterbacks who rotated possessions. Layne Hatcher threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns, and Logan Bonner threw for 197 yards and three touchdowns. Jonathan Adams caught 15 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

Oddly enough, neither of those quarterbacks threw the game-winning touchdown. That came on a double-reverse pass, with Rashauud Paul throwing a 22-yard touchdown to Lincoln Pare with 4:23 remaining.

“That’s just the way it played out,” Elliott said. “We couldn’t stop them. We were short a defensive coordinator, and that made things difficult all week and probably in the game. We had our opportunities to win.”

For the second consecutive game, Georgia State made a mistake on its first possession that resulted in an opponent’s touchdown. Last time it was a pick-six, on Thursday it was a mishandled snap by punter Michael Hayes that was recovered at the 5 and pushed across for a score on third down.

The Panthers evened the score at 7-7 thanks to a school-record 99-yard drive. After getting backed up at the 1, Gregg broke through the line for a 56-yard gain on the first play, and Brown scored four plays later on a 35-yard run, muscling his way for the final three yards.

After surrendering a 49-yard touchdown pass, Hatcher connected with Dahu Green, the Panthers used their defense to even the score 14-14. Jordan Strachan stripped the ball when Bonner was trying to pass, and Blake Carroll picked it up for a 74-yard scoop-and-score. It was the second longest fumble return in school history and the first since Chandon Sullivan did it against Georgia Southern in 2017.

Arkansas State regained the lead after converting a fourth-and-2 when Bonner found Jonathan Adams with a 42-yard deep ball to make it 21-14.

Georgia State responded quickly. Brown threw to Jamari Thrash for a season-long 57-yard completion, then scored three plays later with an 11-yard run to tie the score at 21-21 with 4:29 left. The teams again exchanged touchdowns, Arkansas State scoring on a 20-yard pass from Hatcher to Green, only to have Georgia State match it on Brown’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Pinckney with 14 seconds left for a 28-28 tie.

The Panthers held Arkansas State on fourth-and-1 at the 39 when Dontae Wilson stopped Jamal Jones for no gain. On the second play, Brown threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Pinckney to give GSU its first lead of the game.

That didn’t last long. Arkansas State answered with an 11-play drive capped by a 16-yard scoring pass from Bonner to Brandon Bowling. The Red Wolves then forced GSU to punt and quickly scored on an 8-yard pass to Pare, one play after a 45-yard completion, to regain the lead 42-35.

Georgia State pulled even again with a 75-yard drive that was completed on a 7-yard run by Gregg. The drive also cost Arkansas State one of its best defensive players when Justin Rice was ejected for targeting.

Arkansas State was limited to a field goal and Georgia State took advantage of the opening when Brown found Pinckney for a 31-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 49-45 lead.

The Red Wolves immediately reclaimed the lead. After converting a fourth-down, Arkansas State’s Hatcher threw to Adams in the corner of the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown and a 52-49 lead.

After an exchange of punts, Georgia State tied the score 52-52 on a 29-yard field goal from Noel Ruiz with 6:55 left.

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