Georgia Southern then drove to the GSU 21 with two seconds left, but GSU’s Jhi’Shawn Taylor sacked Justin Tomlin as time expired.
“Any time you come to Statesboro and come out with a ‘W’, that’s a helluva job,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “There’s nothing better than leaving Statesboro on a bus and you got that win.”
Georgia State (4-4, 3-1 Sun Belt) has won three consecutive games and beaten their rival Eagles in back-to-back seasons. Georgia Southern (2-6, 1-4) lost its third consecutive, the team’s second three-game losing streak this season.
Williams ran for a career-high 97 yards on 12 carries, and Tucker Gregg carried 16 times for 87 yards and two scores. Quarterback Darren Grainger completed 16 of 27 passes for 141 yards and ran for 15 yards.
Georgia Southern’s Tomlin completed 18 of 27 passes for 279 yards and one touchdown, but threw two interceptions. Logan Wright carried 20 times for 113 yards and one touchdown, and Gerald Green rushed 11 times for 51 yards.
Georgia Southern tied the score 14-14 with 1:39 remaining by driving 42 yards in five plays, with Wright scoring on a 9-yard run. The Eagles were rewarded with excellent field position after punting GSU deep at the 9 and forcing a three-and-out.
If there was any question about whether the Panthers would try to win the game or play for overtime, Elliott answered that in a hurry.
“As soon as we got the ball back, coach (Brad) Glenn said, ‘What do you want to do?’” Elliott said. “There’s no question I thought we had the offensive team to take it down the field and score. We play to win. A couple years back at Texas State I left it at the 1 and went to overtime, and we lost the game, and I’m not ever going to taste that sour again.
“I can assure you one thing, I would have lost our entire football team if I’d walked in that huddle and said we’re going to play for overtime. Honestly, I don’t know if they would have got back on the bus with me if I’d said I was playing for overtime.”
The GSU offense was quiet in the first half.
Southern drove to the 21 on its second possession, but Tomlin’s pass was tipped high in the air and intercepted by GSU’s Blake Carroll. It was the fifth takeaway for the Panthers in their past three games. But they could not move the ball and had to punt it away.
Southern threatened again, and a 39-yard pass from Tomlin to Logan Wright and an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty put the Eagles in business. But on a fourth-and-goal from the 1, GSU’s Javon Denis shot the gap and tackled Tomlin for a 4-yard loss.
Georgia Southern finally broke the stalemate with 5:23 remaining. One play after he was sacked by Carroll, Tomlin threw to Khaleb Hood for a 46-yard gain and then found Beau Johnson for a 17-yard touchdown to complete a 92-yard drive and take a 7-0 lead.
Georgia Southern outgained Georgia State 264-115 in the first half, with 171 of those yards coming through the air. The Eagles entered the game averaging only 125.3 passing yards. Georgia State had four possessions in the first half and all ended in a punt.
GSU stopped another drive with an interception in the third quarter. Tomlin, under heavy pressure, had his pass picked off by Chris Moore, who returned it to the 31. That led to Georgia State’s first score, a 2-yard run by Gregg that tied the score at 8:06 to complete the nine-play drive.
“The game is won and lost on turnovers,” Elliott said. “We all know that whoever turns the ball over the most is going to lose. Our guys just kept rising to the occasion.”
Southern gambled on fourth-and-2 at the 41 when Tomlin’s pass was high and broken up by Antavious Lane, giving the Panthers their best starting field position of the game. But the GSU offense went three-and-out when Grainger was sacked on third down for a 7-yard loss.
After another defensive stop, Georgia State drove for the go-ahead score, going 83 yards in eight plays. A 30-yard pass from Grainger to Roger Carter and three productive runs from Williams set up a 3-yard touchdown by Gregg, who followed Shamarious Gilmore into the end zone to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead with 11:19 remaining.
Georgia Southern cornerback Tyler Bride, a sophomore from Greater Atlanta Christian, had to be taken off the field in a cart early in the third quarter after a collision with GSU tight end Aubry Payne. Bride was then loaded into an ambulance.