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After false alarm, GSU picks off homecoming win

ATLANTA -- After dodging figurative bullets throughout Saturday's game with South Alabama, Georgia State was finally caught in the visiting Jaguars' crosshairs in the waning seconds of regulation.

But in the end, the Panthers -- and specifically, Mark Hogan -- were wearing kevlar vests.

After having what would have been the game-clinching interception nullified by a South Alabama penalty -- giving the Jaguars a chance to tie the game with four seconds left and force overtime -- the GSU linebacker came up with another one in the second extra frame.

And this one counted, allowing Donald Russell's 8-yard touchdown run to stand up for the winning score in the Panthers' 27-20 victory before a homecoming crowd of 14,086 at the Georgia Dome, which broke a four-game losing streak.

"Another routine Georgia State University win," GSU coach Bill Curry joked. "One of the hardest things I've ever had to do is to try to explain how well our men were working over the last four weeks. Because if you weren't out there, you would've thought I was lying, and I wouldn't blame you.

"Football and life teach you that if you have the guts and if you are abel to suck it up ... then you can have some moments like this."

Indeed, the win was by far the most positive moment of what has been a tough season so far for the Panthers (2-5), and it almost was taken away by a strange sequence as the second ticked off in regulation.

With Panthers clinging to a 20-13 lead and just eight seconds left, South Alabama (4-3) lined up for fourth-and-goal play from the GSU 4-yard line.

Hogan apparently sealed the game by stepping in front of a Jaguars receiver for what would have been the fourth interception of C.J. Bennett on the afternoon.

But South Alabama was whistled for a 5-yard, false start penalty before the ball had been snapped, which is a dead-ball foul.

And because the clock had been stopped at the time of the penalty, the new rule enforcing a 10-second runoff of the clock on an offensive penalty with less than a minute to play -- which would've ended the game -- did not apply.

That gave the Jaguars a second chance, which Bennett took advantage of by hitting Corey Waldon for a 9-yard TD pass with four seconds left, which knotted the game at 27 following Jordan Means' extra point and sent the game into overtime.

"The point we emphasized this week was keeping our poise and composure and to keep playing," said Hogan, the first player to sign with GSU's two-year . "On Monday, (Defensive coordinator John) Thompson said that it doesn't matter if you play lights out for 50 minutes or terrible for 50 minutes. It's the end of the game that matters."

And Hogan and the defense got a chance to finish after a first overtime in which Means' 44-yard field goal sailed wide left and Christian Benvenuto had his attempt at a game-winning 24-yard kick blocked, and Russell recorded the last of his school-record 136 yards with his TD in the second OT.

This time, Hogan's interception counted as the 5-foot-11, 202-pound redshirt sophomore snagged the ball after it had been deflected by fellow linebacker Dexter Moody to seal the win.

And the play was aided further by Jake Muasau, who shook off leg cramps that had him receiving treatment while the GSU offense was on the field to charge in from the back side and hit Bennett as he threw.

"That was just a time that felt like I should be out there with my teammates whether I was cramping or not," Muasau said. "When I was on the sideline while the offense was out there, I was just getting as much stretching as I could do trying to work out that cramp.

"Two guys (came out of the backfield). I ran right past them. One of them was supposed to pick me up, so I knew I was free (to rush Bennett)."

The play ended a day in which the GSU defense endured several trips by South Alabama's offense deep into GSU territory, but turned the Jaguars away most of those times thanks to five turnovers -- the four interceptions and a fumble recovering -- and a stirring goal-line stand on the game's opening drive that set the tone.

After South Alabama's B.J. Scott took the opening kickoff 65 yards to the GSU 24-yard line, three offensive plays set the Jaguars up first and goal at the 1.

Three runs into the line yielded nothing, and South Alabama tried one more run on fourth and goal from the 1.

But defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi was there to stuff Kendall Houston for a yard loss, ending the Jaguars' possession on downs at the 2 and keeping the game scoreless.

"It was a huge play," Bilukidi said. "Because of that fourth down, that set up our confidence level from the offense to the defensive side.

"Just like (defensive coordinator John) Thompson said, every time we get in a bad position, put out that fire. That's the No. 1 thing. We've got to put out the fire."

After an exchange of turnovers, the GSU offense started a fire of its own by coming up with the first of two big passes from Kelton Hill to Albert Wilson.

Wilson caught a short pass in the right flat and sped around a strong seal block from fellow receiver Danny Williams before sprinting down the sidelines 78 yards for a score that put the Panthers up 7-0 with 5:05 left in the first quarter.

The play was the longest play in GSU's brief history -- surpassing a 64-yard run by Peachtree Ridge grad Sidney Haynes (who is serving a suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules) last season, plus a 55-yard reception by Mill Creek grad Emmanuel Ogbuehi in last season's finale against Alabama.

Hill, who finished the game 12 of 15 for 202 yards, later hit Wilson for a 64-yard TD, part of Wilson's school record 175 yards on five catches.

It was also one of several milestones reached by the Panthers on the day, including Russell, who became the first GSU runner to post 100 or more yards in a game and Benvenuto, who hit two field goals on the day, including a 46-yarder that became his career high, and is just three yards short of the school record set by Duluth grad Iain Vance.