GSU Panthers Win Sun Belt Opener at Coastal Carolina, 27-21

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Penny Hart caught eight passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, and Glenn Smith returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to lead Georgia State to a 27-21 victory its Sun Belt Conference opener at Coastal Carolina Saturday night at Brooks Stadium.

 Georgia State (2-3, 1-0 Sun Belt) quarterback Conner Manning passed for 273 yards and one touchdown, and Kyler Neal and DeMarcus Kirk scored rushing touchdowns. Kirk’s 4-yd touchdown put the Panthers ahead 27-14 with three minutes left, and then GSU held on for the victory.

“It wasn’t pretty, but I don’t care. That’s a win!” head coach Shawn Elliott said. “We’re 1-0 in the conference. They played their tails off.”

Smith took the opening 90 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers the early 7-0 lead. That is the sixth kickoff return for touchdown in GSU history and the second on the opening kickoff, following Darren McCray vs. Campbell in 2010.

Coastal Carolina (1-4, 0-2) took the ensuing kickoff and drove deep into Georgia State territory, but the Panther defense held on three straight plays inside the 6-yard line and then forced a missed field goal.

Georgia State converted the missed field goal into an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Manning completed four passes to Hart on the march, including a short shovel pass that Hart grabbed and raced around the right end for an 8-yard touchdown. That put GSU ahead 14-0 with three minutes left in the first quarter.

Coastal Carolina got on the board midway through the second quarter on Tyler Keane’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Omar Black, but the Panthers answered right away with a 65-yard scoring drive. The drive was aided by three costly Chanticleer penalties, but Manning had two key third down conversions with a 17-yard completion to Tamir Jones on third-and-six and an 11-yard rush down to the 1-yard line. That set up Kyler Neal’s 1-yard scoring run and gave the Panthers a 21-7 lead with 2:20 left in the first half.

After the Chanticleers pulled within 21-14 with seven minutes left, Manning led the Panthers on a 91-yard scoring drive, keyed by a 52-yard completion to tight end Ari Werts, who was left wide open on a wheel route and raced down the sideline to the CCU 23. Kirk finished the drive with his 4-yard touchdown run. The Panthers missed the extra point but led 27-14 with three minutes left.

Coastal managed a quick touchdown, moving 80 yards on six plays in just over a minute to pull within 27-21 with 1:50 to play. But Georgia State recovered the onsides kick and managed one first down to run out the clock.

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Georgia State will play its fourth straight road game next week at ULM in a 5 p.m. ET kickoff in Monroe, La. The Panthers next home game is the Oct. 21 Homecoming contest against Troy at Georgia State Stadium. Kickoff time for that game will be announced Monday.

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