Manning lifts Georgia State to first bowl win
ORLANDO, Fla. - Conner Manning and the Georgia State Panthers will never forget the first time.
Manning passed for 276 yards and a touchdown to lead Georgia State to a 27-17 win against Western Kentucky and earn MVP honors in the AutoNation Cure Bowl on Saturday at Camping World Stadium.
“It’s really a credit to all the guys in this room,” Manning said. “We wanted to come in and play a clean game, and besides my fumble I thought we did that. Everybody just stepped up and made plays.”
The Panthers (7-5) racked up 419 yards to win the first bowl game in the program’s eight-year history.
“Right now I‘m speechless,” Panthers safety Bryan Williams said. “This victory means everything to the players, coaches and everyone behind Georgia State. We’re building a foundation for a young program.”
Manning threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to tight end Roger Carter to give the Panthers a 20-10 lead in the third quarter. The Panthers put the game out of reach with a 16-play, 74-yard drive that took 9:01 off the clock and ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Kyler Neal to make the score 27-10 with 5:50 remaining in the game.
“I told (the players) before we stepped on the field that the team that wanted this game the most was going to win,” Panthers coach Shawn Elliott said. “There was no doubt in my mind that we were the team that wanted it and we were going to win it. We’re a bunch of misfit coaches and misfit players that learned how to work hard and fight every day.”
Western Kentucky (6-7) made the first big play of the game when quarterback Mike White connected with Deon Yelder on a 54-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to give the Hilltoppers a 7-3 lead.
Georgia State quickly answered with a three-play, 85-yard drive to take a 10-7 lead. Manning completed a 49-yard pass to Tamir Jones before Demarcus Kirk finished the drive with a 26-yard touchdown run.
The teams traded field goals in the second quarter and Georgia State took a 13-10 lead into halftime.
White threw his second touchdown pass to Yelder in the fourth quarter to make the score 27-17 with 2:34 remaining, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Panthers defensive back DeAndre Applin.
“Today’s game, honestly, it’s been what’s ailed us all year,” Hilltoppers coach Mike Sanford said. “We needed to identify opportunities to run the football, I thought we had some early opportunities but not enough. That made us one-dimensional and more difficult to throw the football. To win championships, we have to run the ball effectively and we didn’t do that.”
Manning was 20 of 28 and added 24 yards rushing. Glenn Smith rushed for 73 yards on 23 carries and Carter had four catches for 85 yards for the Panthers.
White was 26 of 39 for 351 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Yelder had five catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought we were ready to play,” Hilltoppers running back Marquez Trigg said. “I felt like we had a good game plan but they played hard and they didn’t give us a lot of space. We just have to get better as a team. The running backs have to get better.”
The Panthers sacked White six times and held Western Kentucky to minus-2 yards rushing. Panthers defensive end Mackendy Cheridor had two sacks.
“We had six sacks and probably should have had 12 sacks,” Elliott added. “They pressured them all night and did a great job. When you face a team like Western Kentucky that throws so much you have to get to the quarterback and get him off rhythm.”
NOTES: Western Kentucky starting DT Julien Lewis was ejected for targeting with 10:32 remaining in the second quarter. ... Georgia State WR Penny Hart, who came into the game ranked fourth in career receptions per game (5.96) and fifth in receiving yards per game (87.3), was limited because of an ankle injury. He had one catch for 27 yards in the third quarter. ...Georgia State had a 36-yard touchdown pass from Conner Manning to Jonathan Ifedi overturned when review showed Ifedi’s knee down when he caught the pass. ... Hall of Fame coach and 1966 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier served as honorary captain for Western Kentucky. His son, Steve Spurrier Jr., is an assistant coach for the Hilltoppers. ... Western Kentucky had its three-game bowl winning streak snapped.