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Late TD snag secures Panthers' win

ATLANTA — When the football left the right arm of Drew Little, it was like time almost stood still for Georgia State coach Bill Curry. The ball seemed to slowly travel toward tight end Arthur Williams, glance off the hands of a defender in the end zone and pop into the air. With defenders surrounding him, the guy they call “Bully” was somehow able to wrap his meaty hands around the ball.

The result was the go-ahead 2-yard touchdown pass, the guarantee of a winning season and no need to send paramedics to Curry’s post-game press conference. Just more late-game drama for Georgia State, which somehow managed to beat Lamar 23-17 at the Georgia Dome and improve its record to 6-4.

“When I saw it in the air, my heart sank,” Curry admitted. “But when I saw big No. 84 pluck it, I went from agony to ecstasy.”

All the theatrics were necessary after Georgia State allowed a 13-3 lead slip away in the fourth quarter. Lamar had not managed to move the ball with any gusto for most of the game and seemed to be in an unwinnable position when Georgia State downed a pooch kick at the 1. But Lamar, a first-year program just like Georgia State, responded by driving the length of the field to score on an eight-play drive with 9:50 remaining and cut its deficit to 13-10.

That’s when things really got screwy. On the first play after the kickoff, Little made a rare mistake, throwing just his seventh interception of the season on a sideline route that was snared by Ryan Clark and returned 54 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals a 17-13 lead, their first advantage of the game.

“I saw that and it was like, ‘Oh, no,’” Williams admitted. “But we had a lot of time and we work on the two-minute drill every day in practice.”

So with 9:34 remaining, Georgia State began the drive to save its season. It seems amazing, but none of the Georgia State players seemed to be in a state of panic.

“After I threw the pick, I knew they’d be looking to me for leadership,” Little said. “If I dropped my head, the other guys would drop their heads, too. You’ve got to take the team back on your shoulders and lead them down the field.”

Little began moving the team toward the goal line. Starting from the 29, Little needed seven plays to push the Panthers to the Lamar 4. After trying backup quarterback Kelton Hill on consecutive 1-yard keepers, Little went back into the game and faced a third-and-goal at the 2. That’s when he hooked up with Williams for another magical moment.

“It was just a pop pass,” Little said. “I just wanted to give him a chance to make a play and he did.”

Williams finished with a season-best five catches for 66 yards. Little wasn’t as sharp as usual, but completed 22 of 35 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. He connected with Sidney Haynes for an 8-yard touchdown in the first half.

Georgia State got its other points via three field goals by Duluth’s Iain Vance, who was successful from 33, 47 and 29 yards. The senior, one of five honored before the game, has now converted 15 of 18 field goal tries and 34 of 36 extra points.

With only national power Alabama remaining on the schedule, it was important for Georgia to beat Lamar and ensure a winning season. Curry said he felt more pressure before this game than at any other time during the season.

“I told our young men that this season will be remembered for the first game and for this game,” Curry said. “This game would determine whether we were going to have a winning record. Today was a big win.”