Georgia State comes up short against Marshall, finishes 4-8

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

The same problem that has hindered Georgia State for the past month reared its ugly head in the team’s final game of the season. The Panthers could not close.

The Panthers had the lead in seven of the eight games they lost, including Saturday’s 28-23 season-ending loss to Marshall on Saturday in Huntington, W.Va.

Unlike the past two losses, when GSU failed to hold a halftime lead, the Panthers led 17-14 in the third quarter. But they allowed Marshall to score twice and take the lead, then answered with a late score but could not wrest the ball away from the Thundering Herd, who ran out the final three minutes of the clock.

The loss was the third consecutive for Georgia State – by a total of 10 points -- and the Panthers completed their season at 4-8, 3-5 in the Sun Belt Conference.

“We could not finish this year,” coach Shawn Elliott said. “I really can’t pinpoint it. I don’t think it’s something (where) the team quits. It’s not something like that. ... Our last scoring drive, we get a 54-yard pass to (Jamari) Thrash and go down and punch it in, and then we have to make a stop and win the football game.”

The stop never happened, and Marshall (8-4, 5-3) was able to finish an unbeaten November and improve its bowl standing. Rasheen Ali ran 16 times for 102 yards, and Khalan Laborn ran 11 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns, one an 83-yarder and the other a 1-yarder that proved to be the winning score.

The outcome ruined a fine effort by Thrash, a junior from Troup High in LaGrange. Thrash caught nine passes for 155 yards and one touchdown, giving him 60 receptions for a Sun Belt Conference-best 1,110 yards. Thrash is the third Panther with 1,000 receiving yards in a season and has 1,740 yards for his career, fifth on the school’s all-time list.

“I was joking with him a little bit and told him we’re going to need 16 catches from him,” Elliott said. “I think he’s tops in our league. He’s a playmaker with the ball in his hand, and the ball needs to be in his hand more. I think that’s one of the changes.”

GSU quarterback Darren Grainger completed 19 of 26 passes for 295 yards and one touchdown. But Grainger was under constant pressure from the Marshall defense and was sacked seven times, once on three consecutive plays late in the fourth quarter.

Georgia State’s battered offense line, which gamely fought through injuries, couldn’t overcome its patchwork composition. The running attack, rated No. 1 in the conference, was limited to 74 yards on 43 carries and endured 12 tackles for loss.

Running back Tucker Gregg ran 11 times for 21 yards and one touchdown, his 12th of the season, which tied a school record. He finished his career with 2,265 yards and a school-best 28 touchdowns.

“The last few weeks we’ve had a lot of inconsistencies up front,” Elliott said. “When you have inconsistencies, you struggle. You can’t have a guy going from left tackle to right tackle or left guard to right tackle. You just can’t have that. A lot of it had to do with injured guys that we had to maneuver, and a lot had to do with guys that we had hoped would develop into quality players that weren’t able to go in there and finish. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve been dominated like we’ve been dominated the last few weeks.”

The Panthers will have a different look on the offensive line next season. Guard Pat Bartlett set a school record by playing in the 61st game of his career, and center Malik Sumter started his 53rd consecutive game. The duo combined to play 119 games, with 107 starts, and were anchors on the team that had made three consecutive bowl appearances.

“I can’t say enough about this group of seniors who made such a difference in our football program,” Elliott said. “These guys made a commitment to our football program, and they had to believe in what we were doing. They’ve seen as much success by Georgia State football as there’s ever been, and without those guys we couldn’t have accomplished anything. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that it had to end the way it did.”