ATLANTA – Conner Manning threw touchdown passes to Glenn Smith and Penny Hart to back a strong effort by the Georgia State defense in the Panthers’ 21-13 win over South Alabama Thursday night at Georgia State Stadium, giving GSU its first win in its new home.


The Panther defense set a school record by allowing just 41 yards rushing to lead Georgia State (4-3, 3-1 Sun Belt) to its fourth win the last five games.


Manning completed 17 passes for 195 yards. Hart finished with six catches for 98 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown catch. Smith totaled 175 all-purpose yards with 73 yard rushing, two catches for 36 yards with a 2-yard touchdown, and 66 kickoff return yards.


For the second straight game, safety Bryan Williams grabbed an interception on the opponent’s opening possession to set up a Georgia State score.


Williams intercepted Dallas Davis at the USA 36 and returned it 30 yards to 6. On third-and-goal, Manning hit Glenn Smith for the 2-yard touchdown and the early 7-0 lead.


That was Williams’ fourth interception of 2017, tying the Georgia State season record, and the sixth of his career, equaling the Panthers’ career mark.


Georgia State added to its lead with a 95-yard drive late in the first half, with Smith doing much of the work. On first down at the GSU 37, Smith rushed for gain of six yards, then 16 yards to the USA 41. On the next play, he took a short pass over the middle and raced around left side down to the 7. Then Kyler Neal finished the drive with a 7-yard scoring run, putting GSU ahead 14-3 with 1:43 left in the half.


Meanwhile the Georgia State defense held South Alabama (3-5, 2-2 Sun Belt) to just a field goal in the first half, sending the Panthers into the locker room with a 14-3 lead.


Another South Alabama field goal was the only scoring in the third quarter, cutting Georgia State’s lead to 14-6. But the Panthers responded on their next possession with a 79-yard touchdown drive, keyed by Hart, who caught a 45-yard pass down to the South Alabama 20. After Smith covered the first 10 yards on the ground, the Panthers faced 3rd-and-goal at the 8 when Manning found Hart in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown. That put GSU ahead 21-6 with 13 minutes left.


South Alabama made things interesting late in the game as Davis hit Jamarius Way for a 75-yard touchdown to make it a one-score game with two minutes left.


The Jaguars recovered the onside kick but managed only one short completion before GSU forced three straight incompletions to seal the win. Chandon Sullivan broke up Davis’ fourth-down pass intended Way.


“It’s a great Thursday night here at Georgia State Stadium,” head coach Shawn Elliott said. “First win in this stadium feels great, but we sure do make it interesting, don’t we? Man, we really do.

“Let me just say our defense played a phenomenal football game, they really did,” Elliott continued. “They had them on their heels all game long. Our secondary, our linebackers, our defensive front, just made plays all night. Hate to see that throw there at the end. And we can’t let that happen.”

The Georgia State defense held South Alabama to 338 yards, 70 of them coming on USA’s late touchdown. The Panthers broke up seven passes and collected six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, holding the Jaguars to a net of 41 yards rushing.

“Offensively we did enough to go out there and put points on the board to make it stand and fought very hard,” Elliott said. “South Alabama is a well-coached football team, and they came in knowing exactly what we did.”

Georgia State now faces two straight road games, beginning next Saturday at Georgia Southern (3 p.m.). The Panthers’ next home game is Nov. 25 vs. Appalachian State.


“I told our team in there, everything that we want to accomplish, everything that we’ve set as our goals--we haven’t set a lot of goals--they’re all obtainable,” Elliott said. “We still get to move forward, we strive to be where we want to be, but we’ve got to clean a lot of stuff up.”