MOBILE, Ala. – Nick Arbuckle passed for 311 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Donovan Harden, to give Georgia State a fourth-quarter lead, but South Alabama scored the winning touchdown with four minutes left for a 30-27 victory Saturday night at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Georgia State (1-6, 0-4 Sun Belt) suffered its third conference loss by three points after leading in the final five minutes of each of them.
“Our kids came in and battled, and we had opportunities win the game, but give South Alabama credit. They stepped up and did it at the end when they had to,” Georgia State head coach Trent Miles said. “Our kids are battling their tails off, and we are going to start winning football games. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it will. I’m proud of our football team.”
With Georgia State trailing 23-21, Arbuckle led the Panthers on an 11-play, 76- yard drive, capped by Duvall Smith’s 1-yard touchdown run. The key play on the drive was an Arbuckle-to-Robert Davis completion for 29 yards down the sideline to the USA 16-yard line. After a pass interference penalty gave Georgia State first-and-goal at the two, Smith punched it in on third down, giving the Panthers a 27-23 lead with 9:48 left.
The GSU defense forced a punt and the Panthers managed one first down, but a sack—South Alabama’s (4-2, 3-1 Sun Belt) fifth of the day—derailed the drive. Georgia State had to punt, and the Jaguars took over at their own 15-yard line with five minutes left.
On South Alabama’s first play, quarterback Brandon Bridge, who rushed for 137 yards on the night, ran 65 yards down to the GSU 20. On the next snap, the ball came loose and Georgia State recovered, but running back Jay Jones was ruled down, and after review, the call stood.
One play later, Bridge hit Danny Woodon for an 18-yard touchdown to put the Jaguars ahead 30-27 with 4:02 remaining.
After a short kickoff and pass interference penalty, Georgia State had a first down at the South Alabama 41. A run on first down and two incomplete passes made it 4th-and-9, and Arbuckle, forced to scramble, gained six yards but was tackled shy of the first down.
South Alabama drove for a touchdown on its first possession, the Panthers answered by driving 66 yards on five plays. On first down at midfield, Arbuckle found Harden down the left sideline for the 44-yard touchdown, tying the game at 7-all midway through the first quarter.
A Georgia State fumble gave the Jaguars the ball at the GSU 45, but the Panthers defense forced a 43-yard field goal, and South Alabama led 10-7 with three minutes to play in the first quarter.
Georgia State drove down the field for a first-and-goal inside the five, but Arbuckle was stopped just short on fourth down at the 1-yard line. But the Georgia State defense forced a three-and-out, and the Panthers regained possession at the 50. This time, the Panthers punched it in as Arbuckle hit Ruiz on third down for a 1-yard scoring pass and a 14-10 lead that Georgia State took into the locker room.
South Alabama struck first in the second half, moving ahead 17-14 on Bridge’s 15-yard touchdown pas to Shavarez Smith, but Georgia State answered with a 75-play drive. Harden caught his second touchdown of the day on a five-yard completion from Arbuckle.
The Georgia State defense then forced field goal attempts on the Jaguars next three possessions, and Aleem Sunanon made two of them to South Alabama ahead 23-21 early in the fourth quarter.
NOTING THE PANTHERS
- Donovan Harden had his best game in a Georgia State uniform with a career-high 10 catches for 132 yards, including touchdown receptions of 44 and five yards. His 10 receptions are one shy of the Georgia State record of 11 (Danny Williams vs. Old Dominion in 2010). His 132 yards receiving are five yard shy of his career best, set when he was at Illinois State.
- Robert Davis finished with four catches for 108 yards (two yards shy of his career high), giving the Panthers two 100-yard receivers in the same game for the second time this season and the fifth time in school history.
- Captains for today’s game were Joseph Peterson, Joel Ruiz and Keith Rucker.
- Gerald Howse rushed for a career-high 53 yards in his first start since the 2013 season opener. Howse is the fifth different running back to start this season.
- Georgia State’s drive for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter covered 76 yards, the Panthers’ 15th touchdown drive of the season of 70 or more yards.