MOBILE, Ala. — Western Kentucky hasn’t had much success against Georgia State in the postseason.
After losing 27-17 to the Panthers in the 2017 Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla., the Hilltoppers hoped to earn some revenge against the opponent to finish off the 2020 season – but the outcome didn’t go in their favor.
Again matching up with Georgia State, this time in the LendingTree Bowl, WKU held an early 7-0 lead but then allowed the Panthers to score 27 unanswered points and dug itself into a hole it couldn’t come out of – ultimately losing 39-21 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
“Hats off to Georgia State,” WKU coach Tyson Helton said. “They just flat-out outplayed us tonight. They did all the right things. They beat us hands down.”
The Toppers – who finish the season at 5-7 overall – turned the ball over three times, two of those coming off Tyrrell Pigrome interceptions, only recorded 284 total yards and had a 35:02-24:58 disadvantage in time of possession.
Georgia State (6-4) tallied 478 total yards – an average of 5.6 per play – and was led by quarterback Cornelious Brown, who completed 15-of-29 passes for 226 yards and 3 touchdowns.
WKU struck first, capping its longest drive of the season – a 14-play, 80-yard series that knocked 5:52 off the clock – with a 2-yard TD run by Pigrome. Pigrome hit tight end Joshua Simon for a 34-yard gain down to the Georgia State 2-yard line to set up his rushing score and put the Hilltoppers up 7-0 with 4:02 remaining in the opening quarter.
Georgia State responded with a successful series of its own, covering 75 yards with 11 plays in 3:54 and finishing it off with an 11-yard TD run by Destin Coates. Prior to that play, Coates picked up a gain of 12 yards to set himself up to score and evened the scoreboard at 7-7 entering the second.
The Panthers took the lead at the 9:50 mark of the quarter – using a 26-yard TD pass from Brown to wide receiver Sam Pinckney to jump in front 14-7. The TD capped an 11-play, 82-yard drive that took 4:09.
After going up by a score, Georgia State’s defense made a big play – intercepting Pigrome to get the ball back and set up another TD.
On the 13th play of a series that lasted nearly 6 minutes, Brown found wideout Jamari Thrash open in the left corner of the end zone for a 5-yard score to make it 21-7 with 2:09 left in the second – and the Panthers weren’t finished.
Picking off Pigrome for a second straight time, Georgia State again turned its defense into offense – scoring on an 8-yard TD strike from Brown to receiver Cornelius McCoy to make it 27 unanswered points for the Panthers and put the Hilltoppers in a 27-7 hole at the break.
Western Kentucky opened the second half on the right foot.
Putting together an 8-play, 64-yard drive in 3:33, the Hilltoppers scored on a 2-yard TD run from running back Gaej Walker to cut their deficit to 27-14 at the 11:27 mark of the third quarter.
Georgia State’s first points of the second half came on a 45-yard field goal by Noel Ruiz. The attempt looked to be short, but ultimately sailed through the bottom of the goal post and gave the Panthers a 30-14 lead at the 7:59 mark.
Ruiz made another field goal – this one from 29 yards out – with 11:19 remaining in the contest to make it 33-14, and backup QB Mikele Colasurdo’s 25-yard TD pass to receiver Caddarius Thompson put the Panthers up 39-14 with 5:13 to go and sealed it.
“Not good enough,” Helton said of the season as a whole. “It’s a losing season. There’s nothing good about a losing season.”
– Tyson Helton is now 14-11 after two complete seasons as Western Kentucky’s head coach.
– The Hilltoppers are now 8-5 all-time in postseason bowl games and 4-3 in the FBS Era. WKU lost in the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, won in the 2014 Popeyes’ Bahamas Bowl, won in the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl, won in the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl, lost in the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl, won in the 2019 SERVPRO First Responder Bowl and lost in the 2020 LendingTree Bowl.
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