ATLANTA -- Georgia State fell to Sun Belt Conference foe Western Kentucky 44-28 on Saturday at the Georgia Dome. The Panthers (0-9, 0-4 Sun Belt) scored two touchdowns on back-to-back drives in the third quarter to cut the WKU lead to 31-21 late in the period, but the Hilltoppers (5-4, 2-3) regained control with two fourth-quarter touchdown drives of their own.
Trailing 31-7 in the third, the Panthers executed a 10-play, 73-yard touchdown drive set up by a 32-yard pass from Ronnie Bell to Avery Sweeting that put the Panthers at the WKU 4-yard line. Two plays later, Travis Evans rushed for a 2-yard touchdown to cut the Hilltopper lead to 31-14. Evans rushed six times for 31 yards on the scoring drive.
After the GSU defense forced a three-and-out, the Panthers scored again with 0:54 left in the third quarter on an 11-yard touchdown run by freshman Jonathan Jean-Bart, who was initially called out-of-bounds at the 1-yard line but was determined to have crossed the goal line after a review. The touchdown was the first of Jean-Bart's career.
The Hilltoppers, however, stemmed the Panther rally as Keshawn Simpson scored his third rushing touchdown with 10:18 to go in the game. Quarterback Nelson Fishback, who got the majority of the snaps after starter Brandon Doughty left in the third quarter with an injury, added to the WKU tally with a 5-yard touchdown pass with 3:40 left.
Georgia State came right back with a 75-yard drive that ended in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Bell to Sweeting. The Panthers recovered the ensuing onsides kick, but turned the ball over on downs with under a minute remaining.
"Our kids battled today," GSU head coach Trent Miles said. "Give Western Kentucky and Coach Petrino the credit. They found a way to win the football game. We dug ourselves a huge hole. We were unable to sustain any drives in the first half with our offense except for one big play. We had too many three-and-outs and left our defense on the field way too much. We can't turn the football over.
"The kids battled back and made it a game. At one point it was a 10 point game. They [Western Kentucky] were able to go down and extend the lead. The kids showed again that they're fighters. We went back out and answered it and put it ourselves back in the game, but give Western Kentucky the credit."
After Western Kentucky started the game with two scoring drives to take a 10-0 lead, the Panthers got on the scoreboard at the 1:33 mark in the first quarter. On a third-and-2 play, Bell found Robert Davis for a 67-yard touchdown pass as Davis made a juggling catch near midfield and raced the rest of the way after the WKU defensive back fell down. The pass play was the fifth longest for a touchdown in GSU history (the top four were caught by Albert Wilson). The touchdown reception was the fourth of the year for Davis, who led the team with 84 yards receiving.
The teams traded punts until Simpson capped a WKU drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 4:02 remaining in the first half. After another GSU punt, the Hilltoppers struck again with :52 left when Doughty found Kadeem Jones for a 16-yard touchdown pass to take a 24-7 lead into halftime. Simpson got his second touchdown of the day on a 2-yard run in the third quarter.
Wilson, the second-leading active player in career total yards behind Western Kentucky's Antonio Andrews (143 total yards today), finished with 72 yards receiving, 66 kickoff return yards (22.0 average), and 6 punt return yards to tally 144 today and bring his career mark to 5,588. Andrews' 143 yards snapped a streak of 15 consecutive games with at least 150 all-purpose yards. Bell finished the game 26-of-41 passing for 325 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Panther defense forced one turnover, as cornerback Brent McClendon made a diving interception at the GSU 31 on a deep Doughty pass in the third quarter. Robert Ferguson and Joseph Peterson tied for the team high with 10 total tackles, and Theo Agnew finished with nine.
GSU punter Matt Hubbard had a 43.6-yard average on five punts with a long of 54.
The Panthers have a bye week before they host Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
Georgia State University