ATLANTA - Georgia State kicked off the 2018 season in dramatic fashion, defeating Kennesaw State 24-20 on Dan Ellington's 8-yard touchdown pass to Diondre Champaigne with 41 seconds left in front of 23,088 fans Thursday night at “Pete” Petit Field at Georgia State Stadium.

 

“I looked up there with two minutes to go and there were a lot of people that left that stadium and missed on heck of a finish," GSU head coach Shawn Elliott said. "Going into this contest I knew it’d be a fight, I knew it’d be everything it was. I knew it was going to be a dog fight.

 

“All I know is we stand here 1-0, and that’s a lot better than where we were a year ago.”

 

Ellington, the junior college transfer playing his first game for the Panthers, hit on 20-for-28 passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns while also running for 77 yards on 18 attempts. Christian Owens had six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown and Penny Hart caught five for 46 yards and a score.

 

The Panthers (1-0) rallied from a 14-0 first-half deficit with two touchdowns in the final minute of the first half and then had to rally again in the fourth quarter after falling behind 20-14.

 

The GSU defense set up the winning touchdown with a fourth-down stop that gave the Panthers the ball at their own 27 with 2:01 left.

 

Ellington hit Hart twice to start the drive before hitting Owens for an 18-yard pass up the right sideline and down to the KSU 21. After a short run by Ellington, he found Champaigne, another junior college transfer, on a fade to the back corner of the end zone for the winning score.

"We worked that drill so much," Ellington said of the final play. "As a matter of fact we worked that drill Tuesday.And I saw it was straight man, and they pushed everyone over to Penny and I knew it would be open. So I decided to give [Champaigne] a chance and see if he could make a play and he made that play."

 

Kennesaw State (0-1) jumped a 14-0 lead before the Panthers got on the scoreboard. After forcing a punt down 14-0 late in the second quarter, Ellington hit Hart over the middle for 18 yards to the GSU 46 before finding Owens on the sideline for nine yards and a first down at the KSU 43. On second down, Ellington just barely avoided a sack before breaking a 19-yard run, including a nifty spin move, giving the Panthers a first down at the KSU 20. 

 

On second-and-goal at the three, Hart took a shovel pass from Ellington on a jet sweep and raced around the right end for a touchdown, cutting the KSU lead to 14-7 with just 50 seconds remaining in the half. 

 

For Hart, the Preseason All-American, he pulled in career touchdown catch number 19, moving him into sole possession of second place in GSU history. The junior from Roswell, Ga., has caught at least one pass in 28 straight games.

 

On KSU’s first play after the touchdown, safety DeAndre Applin picked off Chandler Burks over the middle and returned it to the KSU 37. Ellington completed passes to Owens and Taz Bateman before a pass interference penalty put the ball at the 16. After a short pass over the middle to Bateman, the Panthers faced second-and-goal at the six with just eight seconds left on the clock. Ellington found Owens, the South Carolina transfer, in the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 14 heading into the half.

The Panthers’ bend-but-don’t-break defense forced just two field goals after consecutive long drives by the Owls to keep the game within reach heading into the fourth quarter trailing 20-14.

Georgia State pulled to within three after a 35-yard field goal by Brandon Wright, set up by a KSU fumble caused by Terry Thomas and recovered by Jordan Strachan.

 

“I can’t say enough about the way our football team finished,” Elliott said. “To have an opportunity to go down there and take the lead and win that football game with that last-second pass, it was really a testament of how they fought and how they never give up.”