Friday night was a night of firsts for Georgia State’s Panther football program. It was the Panther’s first game of the season, the first game as a member of the Sun Belt Conference and the first game coached by new Head Coach Trent Miles. Unfortunately, for the Georgia State fans and just like last year, there was no first game win! The Panthers lost their home-opener to the Samford Bulldogs who took advantage of some third quarter Panther errors to run out 31-21 winners.
Despite out-gaining the Bulldogs (463 yards to 298) and a 28 of 51 passing performance by sophomore quarterback Ronnie Bell for 391 yards the Georgia State Panthers debut as an FBS school ended in defeat as Samford came from behind to win by ten.
The game could not have started any worse for the Panthers. Samford won the toss, elected to receive and then senior running back Fabian Truss returned the kick off 100 yards for the touchdown.
But in a demonstration of some new found grit and determination the Panthers fought back in the first quarter and tied the game up on a touchdown reception by Kelton Hill. Continuing an early dominance into the second quarter quarterback Ronnie Bell threw another TD to Kelton Hill and the Panthers were on top 14-7.
The Panthers good fortune was not to last however as Bell made some poor decisions and poor plays that led to some errors that Samford were able to exploit. Prior to getting the nod to start tonight Ronnie Bell had only started two games for Georgia State and at times his raw talent couldn’t hide his inexperience.
First Bell threw a lofted pass that was intercepted by Jaquiski Tartt and returned 33 yards for a touchdown. With the game now tied up Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin, a six year veteran, used his experience to execute an offensive plan that successfully used his own, and Truss’s, running to open up Georgia State’s defense to some timely passing.
Summerlin rushed for 59 years on one play and then let Truss take over for a rushing touchdown to take a 21-14 lead.
On their next possession Summerlin hit receiver Karel Hamilton with a 31 yard TD pass. Those two quick touchdowns early in the fourth quarter meant the game was effectively over. Although Samford added a field goal on another Bell interception and Albert Wilson scored a late touchdown for the Panthers.
“It was a tough start,” Miles said. “You cannot throw a pick for a touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown and another interception and expect to win a college football game.
“But I’m very proud of the way my young men competed. We have to teach them how to win. That was a major part at points in the game.”
Samford were without head coach Pat Sullivan on the sideline as he was home in Alabama continuing his recovery from back surgery.
Assistant head coach Bill D’Ottavio led the Bulldogs from the booth Friday. “We talk about dealing with adversity,” he said. “We had plenty of it today. We were down. We had some big plays go against us, but at the end of the day, our kids overcame it, kept playing hard and won the football game.”
“It’s big to bring him [head coach Sullivan] a win back,” D’Ottavio said. “That’s the main thing. Naturally we miss him and wish he was here. We just had contact with him in the locker room by phone so he got to be a part of the celebration. We’re excited to go see him.”
Next up for Georgia State is a home game against Chattanooga while Samford visit Arkansas.