Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Georgia State University running back Malcolm Smith (28) runs for a touchdown against Old Dominion University defensive tackle Chris Burnette (90) during CAA football action at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Saturday. ODU defeated GSU 53-27.
ATLANTA -- It wasn't the way Georgia State wanted to bid Bill Curry farewell at the Georgia Dome.
The Panthers fell into a big first-half hole -- thanks in no small part to Collins Hill grad Taylor Heinicke -- in Saturday's 2012 home finale against Old Dominion.
And while they fought back hard in the second half, it wasn't nearly enough to prevent a 53-27 defeat at the hands of the No. 5 nationally-ranked (FCS) Monarchs before a crowd of 12,239 at the Dome in the final home game in the long coaching career of Curry.
"Everyone who knows anything about football knows that the time has come for us to be a good football team," said Curry, who will retire after the completion of a 20-season head coaching career that has included stops at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky before starting up GSU's program in 2010 following the Panthers' finale at Maine next week. "It is our job to get that done. With all the honoring of our seniors and the kind gestures (of pregame ceremonies honoring him), we still didn't manage to play to our potential, or anywhere close to it. Yes, we fought back, and we always will. But when you are down that far to a really good football team, it made it so difficult to win."
Heinicke, who threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-42 passing with three interceptions, and ODU (8-1, 5-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association) made life difficult for the Panthers (1-9) early on.
It took the Monarchs just nine plays and 2:57 to get on the board when Heinicke hit Marquel Thomas for a 9-yard scoring strike, making the score quickly 8-0 after Nate Ong's two-point conversion pass to Kai Blanco on a fake kick.
And it didn't get any better for the Panthers over the remainder of the half despite two interceptions of Heinicke, the leading FCS passer in the nation.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound sophomore hit another TD pass -- this time, a 4-yard scoring strike to Larry Pinkett late in the first half -- while Angus Harper and Tyree Lee added scoring runs, and Jarod Brown chipped in a 48-yard field goal with 46 seconds left in the half to send the Monarchs into intermission with a whopping 32-0 lead.
With Ronnie Bell having replaced Ben McLane at quarterback after halftime, GSU came out of the lockerroom in the second half with its most sustained drive of the game.
The Panthers marched 80 yards in 11 plays, with Rosevelt Watson powering in from 3 yards out, to get on the board at 32-7 with 8:54 left in the third quarter.
And GSU had other moments of success in the second half, including a couple of record-setting scoring plays from Albert Wilson.
The junior receiver set new school records with his 100-yard kickoff return for a TD, and later hauled in a 93-yard scoring strike from McLane as the Panthers pulled as close as 46-27 following Malcom Smith's 1-yard TD run with 4:06 remaining.
But it was far too high of a mountain for GSU to climb, adding more frustration to what has been a difficult season for the Panthers.
"That's one of the most frustrating things," said Brookwood grad McLane, who 13 of 32 for 226 yards with a TD and two interceptions, including completions of 93 yards to Wilson and 55 yards to Mill Creek grad Emmanuel Ogbuehi. "We've been trying to work on that. We're a great team in spurts. ... It's like that this year. We'll shoot ourselves in the foot. We'll take a step forward and two steps back. If we could ever string that together and just play one complete game, we would be a force to be reckoned with."