Grainger sparks Georgia State to win over Louisiana-Monroe

AJC file photo.
Caption
AJC file photo.

Credit: David Barnes

Credit: David Barnes

Georgia State chose a quarterback this week, and the decision looked pretty good Saturday night.

Darren Grainger earned the starting nod and led the Panthers to a 55-21 road win over Louisiana-Monroe. The much-needed victory ended a two-game losing streak and allowed Georgia State (2-4) to even their record at 1-1 in Sun Belt Conference competition.

The 55 points tied a school record, equaling the number scored against Savannah State in 2010. It was the sixth time the Panthers have scored 50-plus points since the program began. Georgia State had 572 total yards – seventh-best in school history -- and did not turn the ball over.

“We needed a game like this,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “I don’t think we’ve always finished a lot of games. Tonight, I think we won the first, second, third and fourth quarter … to the very last handoff.”

Grainger completed 18 of 25 passes for 230 yards and a career-high four touchdowns and rushed 15 times for 83 yards and one touchdown. Quad Brown relieved him in the fourth quarter and scored on a 26-yard run.

“He last couple of weeks he’s brought energy, he has confidence and he instills confidence in others,” Elliott said. “He’s definitely improved in the throw game, which you saw tonight, and I felt like we needed to create a spark. He led the team to the win against Charlotte and into the Auburn game, and we just thought it was the right move.”

Ja’Cyias Credle caught a career-best seven passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, and Aubry Payne caught six passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns.

The running game amassed 326 yards, with Tucker Gregg carrying 15 times for 83 yards and one touchdown and Jamyest Williams rushing 12 times for 67 yards and one touchdown.

The outcome was reminiscent of last year’s game against ULM, which the Panthers won 52-34 and sparked the team to four wins in their last five contests.

The Georgia State defense was active Saturday, with three sacks, six tackles for loss and an interception from Antavious Lane, the second of his career. Blake Carroll had eight tackles, with Jordan Veneziale and Tre Moore each having six tackles. The Panthers were especially tough on third downs, limiting ULM to 3-for-14 on those conversions.

“Good teams create turnovers, and that helps the offense put together drives,” Elliott said. “They brought great energy, and those turnovers are instant energy. They’re great to have.”

Georgia State spotted ULM a touchdown before scoring four consecutive scores to take a 28-7 halftime lead. Each of the drives were operated efficiently and with consistency.

The Panthers evened the score on a 10-play, 75-yard drive, with Williams scoring on a 1-yard run, then took a 14-7 lead on a seven-play, 74-yard drive that ended with Grainger hitting tight end Payne for a 10-yard touchdown, his first of the season.

Georgia State took 14 plays to go 76 yards, the score coming on a 31-yard pass to Credle in the right corner of the end zone to take a 21-7 lead. The offense then capitalized on a turnover – Davon Dennis knocked the ball loose from running back Andrew Henry and recovered it – and punched it in seven plays later on Gregg’s 2-yard run.

The Panthers took the second-half kickoff and scored on a quick 76-yard drive, with Grainger throwing to Payne for a 9-yard touchdown and a 35-7 lead.

“I told them we’ve got a test in front of us,” Elliott said. “We can be an average team and flounder around and lose our focus or keep doing what we’ve done in the first two quarters and grow as a football team and mature as a football team.”

ULM responded with a touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Chandler Rogers to Zach Jackson. The Warhawks appeared to have intercepted a pass, but Ja’Cquez Williams was called for targeting, and Georgia State kept the ball.

GSU took advantage of a second chance, and Grainger scored on a fourth-and-1 with 4:31 left for a 42-14 lead.

Williams was the fourth player tossed because of targeting. Georgia State safety Keon Carter and defensive end Hardrick Willis, a two-time all-conference choice and the school’s all-time sacks leader, were disqualified in the first half. ULM lost Quae Drake, a transfer from Kennesaw State and the team’s third-leading tackler, and Williams, a Wake Forest transfer from Hinesville.

Credle added his second touchdown reception on the first play of the fourth quarter. A transfer from Central Florida, Credle had three defenders when he caught the pass.

“You could feel it in the air,” Payne said. “We were just ready to play. It’s a different team and just a different mind-set. I don’t think any of us wanted to go to halftime. We just wanted to continue to play and continue to push the gas.”

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