Georgia State finds emerging help at several positions

Panthers look for first win Saturday against Charlotte

Georgia State doesn’t have a win yet, but the Panthers can take solace in the development of depth throughout their roster. Different players have risen in the ranks and will need to continue making contributions, starting this week when they host Charlotte.

Wide receiver Robert Lewis, tight end Kris Byrd and offensive tackles Bryson Broadway and Montavious Cunningham all have proved they can handle the demands that comes with being in the starting lineup and have become important parts of the team.

Georgia State hosts Charlotte at 7 p.m. Saturday at Center Parc Stadium. The game will be shown on ESPN-Plus and can be heard locally on WRAS-FM 88.5.

Lewis, a sophomore from Newton High School in Covington, has joined Jamari Thrash to provide the Panthers with another deep threat. In Saturday’s loss to North Carolina, Lewis caught 10 passes – one short of matching the school record – for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

Lewis dropped a long pass down the sideline in the first quarter, but came back to score on a 49-yarder when he stopped to field the pass, turned and outran the Carolina defenders the final 20 yards. The other touchdown was from 29 yards.

“I’d say I’m prouder of the first one because the drive before I had dropped the deep ball,” Lewis said. “So just knowing that I caught that one and scored got me motivated.”

Lewis has four touchdown catches in his past three games. Coach Shawn Elliott said he wasn’t surprised given the work he’s seen Lewis put in at practice.

“I’ve said this in the past, but over our offseason and in the preseason camp, he was the hardest-working individual we had on our football team,” Elliott said. “So, to see him grow and develop and have a big game was no surprise. We’ve got to get him the ball more. Robert is a special talent, and you’re going to see more Robert Lewis each and every week.”

Byrd, a redshirt freshman from Lyman, S.C., had his role elevated when veteran Aubry Payne was unavailable for the North Carolina game because of an injury. Byrd was targeted three times and caught two passes, one for a 6-yard touchdown.

“He played 58 snaps and did a great job blocking on the edge,” Elliott said. “He’s a guy emerging.”

Broadway, a junior from Dawsonville, transferred from Eastern Illinois and won the starting job at left tackle. Cunningham, a redshirt freshman from Athens’ Clarke Central, earned the job at right tackle when Johnathan Bass sustained a preseason injury.

“Not just because I’m an old O-line coach, but Bryson came in and has really been a great surprise,” Elliott said. “We knew he was going to be a good football player; we just didn’t know how quickly he was going to come and do the things that he’s doing. But he plays at a high level.

“Bass got a little injury in fall camp, and ‘Hog’ Cunningham goes out there, and he’s playing at a high level. It’s always good to see those guys that have come along like that. It’s rewarding because they work so hard and they get their opportunity to come in.”

Charlotte, which competes in Conference USA, is 0-3 after losing to Maryland 56-21 on Saturday. Elliott, whose team lost its first two games against teams from a Power Five conference, said both sides have a thirst for success.

“We’re pretty hungry ourselves,” Elliott said. “We’re dangerous. There’s not a lot of smiling faces around our office. When you back a dog in a corner, it’s going to come out, and it’s going to bite you. We understand Charlotte is going to come out and fight, too. Both of us are looking to get our first win, so there no sense of relaxation on either side. We’re going hit them as hard as we can, and we understand they’re going to try to do the same to us.”

This will be the third meeting between the two schools, with Georgia State winning the past two, including 20-9 in 2021.

Charlotte has 11 Georgians on the roster. South Forsyth graduate Jordan Anderson starts at cornerback and quarterback Xavier Williams, a redshirt freshman from Colquitt County, made his first career start. Comanche Francisco, a sophomore from Sandy Creek, had his first career interception last week.

The 49ers’ coaching staff includes Mark Hogan, who was the first player signed by Bill Curry in 2009 when he started the Georgia State program. Hogan transferred to Charlotte for his final season and scored the program’s first touchdown on a pick-six in 2013.

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp