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Panthers drop a heart-breaker to Troy

ATLANTA — Georgia State had a lead in the fourth quarter for the first time all season, but could not hold on and eventually fell to Troy 35-28. The game was the Panther’s first in conference play as a member of the Sun Belt.

“We are never happy with a loss,” Georgia State head coach Trent Miles said. “But we played 14 true freshman and in our first game in the Sun Belt we went toe-to-toe with a great team.”

Georgia State (0-6,0-1) missed an opportunity to jump on the board first with a 26-yard field goal, but a bad snap caused the kick to go wide right. Troy responded with an eight play drive that went 80 yards culminating in a 26 yard touchdown pass from Corey Robinson to Eric Thomas. Robinson would finish the game 21 of 37 for 350 yards and three touchdowns, the last of which would tie him for the all-time Sun Belt record of 76 career touchdowns.

“They have a tremendous team,” Miles said. “They have one of the best quarterbacks in Sun Belt history, one of the best wide receivers. Hats off to them because they deserved to win.”

The Panthers answered in the first quarter with a touchdown of their a own: a seven yard pass from Ronnie Bell to Kelton Hill from seven yards out that capped a nine play 75 yard drive. Bell finished the game 22 of 50 for 370 yards and tied a school record with four touchdown passes.

After a four-yard touchdown pass from Robinson to Bryan Holmes made the score 14-7 in the second quarter, Tarris Batiste kept the Panthers in the game with a key interception in the end zone that ensured the seven point halftime deficit.

The Panthers would carry the momentum from that interception into the second half by forcing a Troy fumble at the GSU 43 yard line. Batiste again was the big man on the play with the recovery, while freshman linebacker Mackendy Cheridor forced the loose ball.

Georgia State responded with a seven play, 43-yard drive capped by an eight yard pass to Albert Wilson which tied the game at 14-14. On the ensuing Troy possession, Jarrell Robinson kept the momentum in the Panthers direction with an interception of his own. While Georgia State was unable to capitalize with points, Troy’s next possession resulted in a punt which would be blocked, giving the Panthers the ball at the Troy 31.

Ronnie Bell wasn’t going to let that opportunity slide, and he responded with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Robert Davis, on the very first play, giving the Panthers their first lead of the game.

From there the game was a see-saw affair. Troy responded with a 62-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter to tie the game at 21, but Georgia State came right back with a 38 yard touchdown pass to Wilson to reclaim the lead. Wilson finished the day with seven catches for 152 yards and also 59.5 yards on his two kick returns.

The downfall of the Panthers came from the Troy high tempo attack. The Trojans ran 102 plays in the game, which began to take it’s toll in the fourth quarter. Troy ran 34 rushing plays in the second half alone and rode that running game unimpeded into the end zone to tie the game 28-28 with nine minutes remaining.

After drives for both teams stalled, Georgia State got the ball with a chance to go win the game. A facemask penalty kept the drive alive, only to see the Panthers turn the ball over for the first time when Ronnie Bell’s pass was intercepted by Chris Pickett. The Trojans needed just two plays to dash the Panther’s hopes with Robinson finding Williams wide open down the left sideline for the game winning 54 yard score with four minutes remaining.

“This was a really good football game,” Miles said. “And for 56 minutes I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I thought Ronnie played an outstanding game and there is only one throw I’d want back.”