Georgia State enjoys record day in Camellia Bowl win

The Georgia State football team emphatically finished the season in a record-setting fashion.

The Panthers rolled over Ball State 51-20 on Saturday at the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., to give the Panthers a school-record eighth victory and their second consecutive bowl victory.

Georgia State (8-5) won for the seventh time over its past eight games thanks to a well-rounded performance in each aspect of the game.

“I think we finished Christmas Day with one of the best presents we could have ever asked for, and that’s a commanding, dominating win for our conference and our football program,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “It’s nice to call ourselves Camellia Bowl champions. That’s something you never get tired of hearing.”

The GSU offense was deftly led by quarterback Darren Grainger, who rushed 11 times for a personal-best 122 yards and one touchdown and completed 15 of 19 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns. He became the first player in Camellia Bowl history to run and throw for 100 yards each and was named the game’s MVP. At one time he completed 11 consecutive passes.

“He was a show,” Elliott said.

Grainger surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his career – he rushed for 670 yards this season – and joined Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams with 1,000 career rushing yards. Gregg rushed 16 times for 54 yards, giving him with 953 yards this season, and Williams rushed eight times for 49 yards to finish at 859.

Grainger’s preferred target was tight end Aubry Payne, a super senior who caught a career-high eight passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Payne’s partner at the position, super senior Roger Carter, was unable to play because of injury, but was on the sidelines and greeted Payne with a salute after his first touchdown.

“Hopefully I put on for him a little bit,” Payne said. “I feel like we did this together.”

The defense came up with two scoring plays – a scoop-and-score for Javon Denis and a pick-six for Antavious Lane. It was a school-record fifth pick of the season for Lane and extended his career record to nine; he also led the team with 10 tackles, eight of them solo stops.

“He is a special player,” Elliott said. “He’s short in stature, but he plays so tall and so big.”

The defense added four sacks to push that total to 38 and surpass last season’s school record of 35. They had eight tackles for loss, extending their school record to 92. They limited Ball State to 74 yards rushing and 293 yards passing.

Kicker Noel Ruiz, who celebrated his birthday on Christmas, kicked three field goals, connecting from 27, 28 and 45 yards, giving him 63 for his career. He finished his final season by making 13 of 15 field-goal attempts.

Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt completed 27 of 46 passes for 293 yards and one touchdown, with Jayshon Jackson catching 12 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown. The Cardinals finished 6-7.

After spotting Ball State a long touchdown pass, Georgia State answered with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Grainger to Payne.

The GSU defense provided the next points. Linebacker Jamil Muhammad, who had a sack on the first play of the game, stripped the ball from quarterback Drew Plitt. Javon Denis picked it up, darted past an offensive lineman and ran 37 yards for a touchdown.

The Panthers then stopped Ball State on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, with Chris Moore and Blake Carroll making the tackles to give GSU the ball at the 34. The Panthers had a touchdown negated on the next play because of an illegal block, but still came away with a 27-yard field goal from Ruiz and a 17-7 lead.

Georgia State led 20-10 at halftime and poured it on in the second half. The Panthers scored on a 10-yard pass from Grainger to Robert Lewis, a 34-yard Grainger run, a 16-yard pass from Grainger to Payne, a 55-yard interception return from Antavious Lane and a 45-yard field goal from Ruiz.

Georgia State will lose five super seniors, as well as offensive coordinator Brad Glenn, who accepted a job as quarterbacks coach at Virginia Tech.