“We’re doing exactly what we wanted to do right there,” GSU coach Shawn Elliott said. “We’re handing the ball off, we’re moving the chains, we’re controlling the line of scrimmage. And get you down in the red zone and have a turnover. You know, turnovers are difficult. We all understand how critical a turnover can be. But when you’re fixing to punch it in, and you have that first turnover, it’s not a good feeling.”
It got worse. Four plays later App State’s Nate Noel ran around the left side and scored a 61-yard touchdown. From that point it was all App State. The Mountaineers forced GSU to go three-and-out on its next five possessions while taking a 21-0 halftime lead.
“The momentum swings right there,” Elliott said. “And they take the 61-yard run off the left side. It’s just two big plays right there. Two big gut punches.”
The other big gut punch came at the end of the first half. Down by three scores, GSU got a potential lifeline when App State quarterback Joey Aguilar fumbled and Izaiah Guy recovered for the Panthers at the 29. But the chance to cut the lead vanished with Grainger tried to pass the ball to a double-covered Marcus Carroll, and App State’s Trenton Alan Yowe came up with the interception.
“We get down there in the red zone and we’ve got to capitalize,” Grainger said. “We can’t have turnovers in the red zone. Got to be better with ball security and taking care of the ball.”
The final gut punch came on the first play of the second half. Aguilar threw over the top to Dalton Stroman for a 77-yard touchdown.
Grainger completed 15 of 28 passes for 115 yards, one interception and two touchdowns, the last one the 51st of his career, leaving him tied with Nick Arbuckle for the most in program history. Grainger was limited to 18 yards rushing on nine carries.
Marcus Carroll carried 34 times for 113 yards, giving him 1,992 yards for his career and moving into third place on the all-time rushing list. Robert Lewis and Tailique Williams each caught touchdown passes.
App State (6-4, 4-2) became bowl eligible with the win. The Mountaineers amassed 509 total yards, with 255 of that coming from Aguilar, who hit 14 of 21 passes for 255 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. They ran for 254 yards, with Noel running for 86 yards and one touchdown and Kanye Roberts going for 77 yards and one touchdown.
Although already bowl eligible, Georgia State has two road games remaining – at LSU and at Old Dominion – to find some answers.
“We’re searching for those answers,” Elliott said. “We’re reeling a little bit. We’ve got to figure out some things this week and finish it up the right way with our last conference game against Old Dominion. This was a disappointing loss, and they kicked our tails.”