Stellar defensive effort sparks Georgia State to win

Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger (3) in action against Arkansas State on Nov. 20, 2021 at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. (Photo by Rich Von Bieberstein/Georgia State Athletics)
Caption
Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger (3) in action against Arkansas State on Nov. 20, 2021 at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. (Photo by Rich Von Bieberstein/Georgia State Athletics)

Credit: Rich Von Bieberstein/Georgia State Athletics

Credit: Rich Von Bieberstein/Georgia State Athletics

The Georgia State defense rose up Saturday to produce six sacks, 16 tackles for loss and two interceptions against the Sun Belt Conference’s best passing team to hold off Arkansas State 28-20 and become bowl eligible for the third consecutive season.

“They came out and played fantastic football,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said of his team. “They were relentless all day. Offensively we didn’t put them in a lot of good situations, a lot of tough situations, but they responded and did fantastic.”

The Panthers (6-5, 5-2 Sun Belt) got their offense from their powerful running game, with Jamyest Williams running for 16 times for 125 yards – his first 100-yard game – and two touchdowns and Tucker Gregg carrying 22 times for 98 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Darren Grainger completed 10 of 21 passes for 152 yards and ran 11 times for 48 yards and one touchdown.

The GSU defense got two sacks from Thomas Gore, one each from Jordan Veneziale, Dontae Wilson and Akeem Smith and a shared sack from Jontrey Hunter and Hardrick Willis. The interceptions came Bryquice Brown and Antavious Lane, the seventh of his career, which moved him into a tie for first place on the career list.

Georgia State limited the Red Wolves to a school-record minus-3 yards rushing, besting the old mark of minus-2 set against Western Kentucky in 2017.

“We knew Arkansas State was a passing team. That was their main forte,” Gore said. “So this whole week we’ve been focusing on pass rush, different moves, focusing on film, details, so it just came to today that we just put everything together.”

Gore, who had a 102-degree fever, was one of several players who played through illness. Starting cornerback Quavian White was unable to play because of the flu-like non-COVID illness, but veteran Jaylon Jones stepped in to make six tackles and game-high three pass breakups.

Arkansas State (2-9, 1-6) quarterback Layne Hatcher completed 28 of 48 passes for 273 yards and one touchdown. But most of Hatcher’s success came on screens and short routes, as the GSU defense did not allow him much downfield success.

Georgia State has won four of its past five games and can improve its bowl standing with a win next week at home against Troy in the regular-season finale.

“It’s about a bunch of men that didn’t let outside noise affect them,” Elliott said. “We sat there, and we were 1-4, and we knew exactly what type of football team we had. We knew the growth that we were going to continue to have. We knew we were getting better every week.”

The Panthers gave the ball up on its first possession. Grainger never got a handle on the ball, which fell to his feet. He tried to fall on the ball, but it was instead grabbed by Arkansas State’s Jaden Harris, which led to Blake Grupe’s 40-yard field goal. It was the first turnover for the Panthers since the Texas State game Oct. 23.

Georgia State scored late in the first quarter. The drive was extended on a third-down roughing-the-passer penalty and a pass-interference call in the end zone, and Williams ran it in from the 1 for a 7-3 lead.

The Panthers went up 14-3 on their next drive, with Gregg finishing an 11-play drive with a 5-yard run up the middle.

Arkansas State then changed the momentum. Facing a third-and-16 after a sack by Gore, Hatcher flipped a screen in the left flat, and Lincoln Pare went untouched for an 83-yard touchdown, which cut the lead to 14-10.

Georgia State went three-and-out on its next two possessions and allowed Arkansas State to rush downfield for a 36-yard field goal from Grupe, who became the school’s all-time scoring leader, and made the score 14-13 at halftime.

After a scoreless third quarter, Georgia State took a 28-13 lead on back-to-back scoring drives. Williams capped the first with a 13-yard run, and Grainger scored on an RPO 35-yard run.

Georgia State was in position to finish off the game after Arkansas State turned the ball over on downs at the 13. But the Wolves got second life when GSU’s sure-handed tight end Roger Carter had the ball stripped and returned for an 80-yard touchdown. The extra point made the score 28-20 with 4:22 left.

Georgia State was able to receive the ensuing kickoff and run out the clock.

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