ATLANTA -- Georgia State fell 31-16 to Arkansas State despite another strong performance by the Panthers' defense in a Thursday night Sun Belt Conference game at the Georgia Dome.
Arkansas State (4-4, 4-0 Sun Belt), which won its 13th straight Sun Belt Conference game, scored two special teams touchdowns on a blocked field goal and a punt return, and the Red Wolves' first offensive touchdown came in the third quarter when they started at the GSU 19-yard line following an errant snap on a punt. Their two offensive touchdowns came on drives that covered a total of 24 yards.
“I’m very disappointed in the result of the game and the special teams performance tonight. I think the defense rose to the occasion and played well, but when you give up a blocked field goal to take the lead at the half for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, a bad snap on a punt that led to a touchdown deep in our territory and a blocked extra point, we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win the football game."
Georgia State (2-7, 1-4) continues to battle injuries on offense. Conner Manning returned to start at quarterback after missing the last two games but was still hampered with an arm injury. Backup Aaron Winchester, who filled in the last two games, was unavailable after suffering an ankle on the final play at South Alabama.
Manning completed 22 of 46 passes for 237 yards and one touchdown. Robert Davis tied his career high with nine receptions for 87 yards, topping the 200-catch milestone for his career, and Todd Boyd added seven catches for 87 yards.
"I thought Conner was gritty," Miles said. "Obviously, he threw two interceptions, but he was out there fighting and scrapping and doing the best that he could.”
Trailing 10-3 at the half, Georgia State tied the game midway through the third quarter with an 8-play, 66-yard drive. Todd Boyd made a one-handed, 28-yard catch for a first down at the ASU 31 and then had a 19-yard catch down to the 11. Two plays later, Manning hit Keith Rucker over the middle for a 17-yard touchdown, the 10th career score for the GSU tight end.
On its next possession, Georgia State was punting from its own 40, but an errant snap gave the Red Wolves the ball at the GSU 19. The Panthers are down to their third long-snapper after injuries to the starter and his backup.
Arkansas State converted the short field into the go-ahead touchdown on Johnston White's 1-yard run. That put the Red Wolves up 17-10 with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.
Then the teams traded special teams scores as Blaise Taylor returned a punt 68 yards for a score, and then freshman Tra Barnett answered for the Panthers with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The GSU extra point was blocked, making the score 24-16 Arkansas State with 13 minutes to play.
Barnett's return is the fifth kickoff return for a touchdown in Georgia State's brief history. The Panthers' also had one last season at Arkansas State by freshman Marquan Greene.
Arkansas State added a late touchdown after Georgia State failed to convert a fourth down deep in its own territory with two minutes to play.
The GSU defense shut out the Red Wolves in the first quarter, forcing two field goals that were both missed, and the Panthers took a 3-0 lead on Rogier ten Lohuis' 42-yard field late late with three minutes in the quarter.
With the score tied at 3-3, the Panthers drove until Arkansas State territory late in the first half, but the drive stalled at the ASU 33. Ten Lohuis' 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Chris Humes, giving the Red Wolves a 10-3 lead with 25 seconds left in the half.
For the sixth time in the last seven games, the Georgia State defense did not allow a first-half touchdown.
The Panthers collected five sacks and eight pass breakups while holding Arkansas State to 305 yards on 76 plays, including 93 yards rushing.
Linebacker Michael Shaw sack ASU quarterback Justice Hansen twice for 16 yards and forced a fumble, along with seven tackles. Defensive end Shawanye Lawrence made a career-high seven tackles with a 10-yard sack and a pass breakup. Julien Laurent and Chase Middleton also had sacks.
Georgia State continues its three-game homestand by hosting UL Monroe Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.