Livingston, Ala.--Matthew Willis rushed for 171 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a four-yard run with 2:12 left to give West Alabama a 30-23 victory over Georgia State Saturday night at Tiger Stadium as the Panthers suffered another heart-breaking fourth quarter.
Kelton Hill rushed for a GSU record 152 yards and tied the game for Georgia State (2-8) with a two-yard touchdown run with nine minutes to play. After West Alabama (8-3) took the lead, the GSU quarterback drove the Panthers into the red zone, hitting Nathaniel Minor for an eight-yard completion and a would-be first down at the UWA 17 with 48 seconds left, but Minor, who had to leap for the catch, fumbled the ball to end the threat.
It was a frustrating game for Georgia State, which moved the ball throughout the second half but came up short in the red zone four times in the second half, including the final drive. GSU outgained the Tigers, 447-388, including 219 yards rushing and 228 yards passing, but had four costly turnovers.
"We were down inside the 10 four times in the second half and came away with nothing, and if you do that, you're going to get beat," said GSU head coach Bill Curry. "We fought valiantly, and we did a lot of good things on both sides of the ball, but ball security is the most important factor in football."
Trailing 23-16, the Panthers appeared to be heading for the tying touchdown when Kelton Hill fumbled at the two yard line at the end of a long run. UWA recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
But on UWA's next play, Dexter Moody picked off Kyle Caldwell's pass over the middle and returned it to the nine yard line. After Malcolm Smith gained seven yards on first down, Hill took it in from the two, tying the game at 23-all with nine minutes to play.
The Panthers then had an excellent chance to take the lead after Christo Bilukidi recovered a fumbled pitch on UWA's next play to give GSU possession at the 11-yard line. But on third down, a miscue on the exchange caused GSU to fumble the ball right back to the Tigers, who took over at their own 14-yard line. The Tigers drove 86 yards in nine plays for the winning score.
Georgia State came up short on two scoring opportunities in the third quarter. Trailing 20-14, GSU opened the second half with the ball and drove down the field. The Panthers had third-and-one at the UWA four-yard line, but, with GSU's top three running backs all injured, Hill was stopped twice on quarterback sneaks, turning the ball over on downs. The drive proved particularly costly as the Panthers lost running backs Parris Lee and Travis Evans to injuries, with starter Donald Russell also injured and in uniform only for emergency duty.
The GSU defense not only stopped UWA on three downs, but Demazio Skelton blocked the Tiger punt for a safety, the first in Georgia State history to pull the Panthers within 20-16.
Georgia State took the ensuing kickoff and again drove into the red zone but had to settle for a 30-yard field goal attempt by backup kicker Matt Ehasz, which bounced off the upright.
Hill, the sophomore from Douglasville, Ga., rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns, including a 53-yard scoring run, to surpass the GSU single-game record of 136 yards set earlier this season by Donald Russell. Hill also completed 19 of 36 passes for 228 yards and one touchdown.
Albert Wilson caught a career-high eight passes for 120 yards with a 33-yard scoring pass from Hill. That effort raised his career total to 1,058 receiving yards as he became the second Panther in as many weeks to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
Danny Williams, who broke 1,000 last week, had one catch, extending his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 21.
Jake Muasau had another big day for the GSU defense with six tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception.
For West Alabama, Willis carried the ball 33 times for 171 yards and scored twice. Quarterback Kyle Caldwell completed 15 of 20 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown.
Trailing 10-0 in the first quarter, Georgia State got on the board on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Wilson, his sixth touchdown catch of the season, all of them covering at least 30 yards.
After UWA moved ahead 17-7 on Willis' 11-yard touchdown run, the Panthers answered with a 53-yard scoring run by Hill, the second straight week in which the GSU quarterback has scored on a run of more than 50-yards. Last week against St. Francis, he raced 52 yards for a score. His 53-yard play equals the second-longest scoring run in GSU history, equaling his own 53-yard run last season against Lambuth.
The Panthers were on the move late in the first half, looking to tie the game or take the lead when, on third-and-10 at the UWA 34, D'Eric Jackson made a diving interception to give the Tigers the ball with 1:35 left. UWA managed to get in position for a 40-yard field goal that hit the upright but bounced just over the cross bar, giving the Tigers a 20-14 advantage at the half.
GSU plays its final game of the 2011 season next Saturday, hosting Campbell at 2 p.m. at the Georgia Dome for Senior Day.