Panthers junior receiver Diondre Champaigne hauled in the jump pass from quarterback Dan Ellington in the final 41 seconds to lift Georgia State to a 24-20 win over Kennesaw State in the Battle for I-75.

Kennesaw State startled the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl winners jumping out to a 14-0 lead. Shaquil Terry capped an 11-play 86-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run on the Owls’ first possession of the game. KSU added a second score early in the second quarter uncharacteristically. Instead of running the ball in Chandler Burks tossed a perfect pass to Justin Sumpter just inside of the pylon.

Junior college transfer Dan Ellington put the Panthers on the board late in the second quarter finding Penny Hart for a 3-yard touchdown.

With 50 seconds remaining in the half, Kennesaw State made its first real mistake. Rather than running out the clock and going into the half-up 7 points and the kickoff, Burks dropped back and threw an errant pass that wound up in the hands of Panthers defensive back DeAndre Applin.

Applin’s interception gave Ellington another bite at the apple. The JUCO transfer from Itawamba evened the score on a 6-yard pass to C Owens running to the back pylon foreshadowing what occurred later in the game.

The second half started something like the first, with two scores by the Owls. Burks led two drives into the red zone but the Panthers defense bowed up to shut them out of the end zone. Justin Thompson capped the drives with field goals from 32- and 24-yards.

None of the offensive momentum the Panthers left the field with at the end of the first half carried over into the third quarter. The Owls made sure of that by keeping Ellington and Company on the sidelines for over 11 of the 15 minutes in the quarter.

As the third quarter came to a close Georgia State’s offense found a little rhythm. Ellington used his arm and legs to guide the Panthers into the red zone. A timely sack by Owls senior defensive tackle McKenzie Billingslea forced head coach Shawn Elliott to settle for a 35-yard field goal from red-shirt junior kicker Brandon Wright and cut the lead to 3.

Kennesaw responded with a 4-minute, 61-yard, four-on-the-floor, smash-mouthed, totally run-oriented drive all the way down the field. But just as it looked like the Owls were going to finish off their FBS foes, Terry Thomas stripped the ball from senior Jake McKenzie’s arms at the 14.

It was the break the Panthers needed. Unfortunately for them, they were unable to do much with it giving the ball back to KSU at the GSU 36 and less than two-and-a-half minutes to play.

GSU found itself with another gift from the Owls. Chandler Burks’ pass to Justin Sumter on 4th and 9 came up 1 yard short.

I knew they weren’t going to kick a field goal,” said Elliott. “I knew they were going to go for it on fourth down so if we held them to a manageable distance on fourth down I was like ‘Man, we’re going to have two minutes left.’ Two minutes is a lot of time. And we had zero timeouts so we had to be really smart.

Ellington did the most with the two minutes he was given. So we practice two minute a lot, and today on that last drive I was just taking what they were giving me,” said the Olive Branch, Miss native. “They were dropping back so far that we were running shallows, saying here, get the ball, get the first down, get out of bounds. That is what it really was. They were just dropping everybody, dropping eight playing max coverage, and with the players we got Penny Hart, Christian Owens and I knew if I got those players the ball they were going to make something happen.

And the Panthers receiving corps kept making it happen all the way down to the 21-yard line on 4 passes. A time-out by the Owls allowed the Panthers to set up the game-winning play in the same corner of the end zone where they tied the game. “We worked that drill Tuesday,” explained Ellington. “It was him and Sam Pickney and coach kept saying, “Use your legs, use your legs, use your legs” so when he called that play I was like, “God, unreal it’s about to come right now”. And I saw it was straight man, and they pushed everyone over to Penny and I knew it would be open. So I decided to give him a chance and see if he could make a play and he made that play.”

For Kennesaw State, it was like watching the bride leave with the best man. “If we could’ve converted a few—got some more points on the board—it would’ve been a different story, but unfortunately it wasn’t,said KSU head coach Brian Bohannon.


All photos by Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports

2018: Kennesaw St - GA State