ATLANTA -- Bragging rights reside in Atlanta for the second straight year as Georgia State earned a 30-24 win over Georgia Southern Saturday at the Georgia Dome. It marked the Panthers’ final home game of the season and last in the Georgia Dome, which is scheduled to be demolished next spring.
Manning completed eight of his first 10 passes as Georgia State scored touchdowns on its first three possessions to take a 20-0 lead eight minutes into the game. The Panthers never trailed.
Smith finished with seven catches for 65 yards and five rushes for a team-best 37 yards. His 29-yard run gave the Panthers an early 7-0 lead and his 15-yard TD reception put Georgia State ahead 27-17 midway through the third quarter.
Tight end Keith Rucker led the Panthers with eight catches for 145 yards for his second career 100-yard effort. Rucker is the fifth different Panther to have a 100-yard receiving game this season and fourth in the last two games.
The team awarded the game ball to interim head coach Tim Lappano in his first game.
"It was important for the coaches and me to send our seniors out with bragging rights in this series," Lappano said. "The young guys are going to get to have three or four more years, but the seniors aren’t. Georgia Southern hammered us in the Georgia Dome two years ago. Then we went down to Statesboro and got after them. This was the rubber match, and I wanted to make sure we sent our seniors out the right way. This was the seniors last time playing in the Georgia Dome.
"The first thing I told them before we took the field was, ‘We have your back seniors,’ and these young guys are going to make sure you leave tonight with bragging rights against Georgia Southern.”
Trailing 30-24, Georgia Southern (4-7, 3-4 Sun Belt) started its final drive at its own 4-yard line with 1:14 to play, but the Panthers' defense held. The Eagles managed one first down at the 17 before Favian Upshaw threw four straight incomplete passes.
Georgia State scored touchdowns on its first three possessions. The Panthers took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards. Manning opened the game with a 23-yard completion to Rucker and hit five other passes on the drive before Smith covered the final 29 yards for the score.
On Georgia Southern's second play from scrimmage, Shawanye Lawrence stripped Matt Breida and recovered at the Eagles' 26-yard line. On 3rd-and-11, Manning hit Ari Werts, who dove for the end zone but was ruled down just shy of the goal line. On the next play, Manning snuck over for the score and a 13-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
After the Panthers' defense forced a punt, Manning found Davis for 36 yards down the left sideline, and then two plays later, the two connected over the middle for a 28-yard touchdown pass and a 20-0 lead with seven minutes to play in the first quarter.
Georgia Southern responded in the late in the first quarter, scoring the next 17 points to pull within 20-17 at the half.
The Panthers extended their lead on their first possession of the second half with an 11-play, 83-yard drive. Rucker had a 21-yard reception on the drive, and Smith had three catches, capped by his 15-yard touchdown to put Georgia State ahead 30-27 midway through the third quarter.
Brandon Wright, Georgia State's punter, kicked his first field goal with a 27-yard boot to increase the advantage to 30-17 late in the third quarter.
Georgia Southern pulled within 30-24 on L.A. Ramsby's 1-yard touchdown run with 4:42 to play. On its ensuing possession, the Panthers managed one key first down, forcing Georgia Southern to exhaust its timeouts, and then Wright nailed a 49-yard punt to pin the Eagles deep with just 1:14 to play.
Twenty-two Georgia State seniors were honored in pregame ceremonies. Two of them, wide receiver Robert Davis and noseguard Jalen Lawrence, played in their 48th game in a GSU uniform, more than any other player in school history.
Georgia State will conclude the season on Dec. 3 at Idaho.