Troy (3-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) did not commit a turnover and was able to hang onto the ball for 34:28 – nine minutes more than Georgia State – and amassed 410 yards of offense.
“I thought our defense played extremely well,” Elliott said. “They gave us an opportunity to win the game, and we kept shooting ourselves in the foot offensively, and that was the difference in the game.”
Georgia State (4-1, 1-1) still had a chance entering the fourth quarter. The Panthers trailed 21-7 when Grainger threw a 49-yard pass to Robert Lewis, which officials originally called a touchdown before reversing the call and placing the ball at the 1. On second down, Grainger moved under center and looked to pitch the ball, but got tangled up and fumbled, which Troy recovered.
That was the last time Georgia State touched the ball on offense. Troy ate up the final 8:21, with Kimani Vidal scoring on a 6-yard run with six seconds left.
“They forced the turnovers and made the plays,” Elliott said. “That’s the difference in the ballgame. Good football teams don’t turn it over. Great football teams don’t turn it over. Championship teams don’t turn it over. You don’t turn it over when you play a team like that.”
The Troy defense made Grainger more uncomfortable than anyone had all season. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown, but threw two interceptions. He ran 11 times for 25 yards, with a long gain of 11 yards. Marcus Carroll carried 19 times for 75 yards and one touchdown.
Troy turned to three Georgia exports to make big plays. Quarterback Gunnar Watson (Taylor County High School, Butler) completed 23 of 30 passes for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Vidal (Marietta HS) ran 23 times for 76 yards and one touchdown and caught two passes for 16 yards and one touchdown. Deshon Stoudemire (Stephenson HS) caught five passes for 51 yards.
The Troy offensive line protected Watson, who was not sacked and was hurried once. GSU’s TyGee Leach intercepted Watson’s rare mistake.
The danger signs were there early for the Panthers. Georgia State took the opening kickoff and drove to the 8-yard line, then Grainger was intercepted by O’Shai Fletcher. It was the first time Grainger had been picked off this season, ending a stretch of 107 attempts.
Troy drove to the 4, where Henry Bryant stuffed the runner on second down and Jontrey Hunter forced an incomplete pass, leaving the Trojans to settle for a 22-yard Scott Taylor Renfroe field goal.
The Panthers had offensive woes on the next possession, too, and had to punt after absorbing a false start and a holding penalty. Troy drove to the 17, but came up inches short on third down and jumped offside before running its fourth-down play. The Trojans again settled for a field goal, this one from 38.
“I don’t think field goals win many ballgames these days, so when they kicked the two field goals, I was like, ‘Good job. Fantastic,’” Elliott said. “I thought let’s keep playing tough defense and make sure we don’t turn the ball over.
Georgia State finally got its offense going and took a 7-6 lead on Carroll’s 1-yard run, his ninth rushing score of the season. Carroll caught two key passes and converted a fourth-and-2 on the 15-play, 75-yard drive.
Troy regained the lead on its first possession of the third quarter on a 45-yard run by Damien Taylor. Georgia State seemed to have some momentum after Travis Glover ran a fake punt 6 yards for a first down on its next turn. But on the third play after the trickery, Grainger’s arm was hit from behind, causing a fumble that forced GSU to punt. Troy responded by scoring on a 14-yard pass from Watson to Vidal.
“Too many self-inflicted wounds out there,” Georgia State cornerback Gavin Pringle said. “But it’s not that we can’t bounce back.”
Georgia State is off next weekend and plays again Oct. 14 at home against Marshall.