College Football: Cure Bowl: Georgia State 27, Western Kentucky 17 - D1SportsNet


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Cure Bowl: Georgia State 27, Western Kentucky 17

ORLANDO, Fla. -- From 0-12 to Cure Bowl champions in four years.

Georgia State's fledgling football program took a bow Saturday, celebrating a 27-17 victory over Western Kentucky - the first postseason win in school history.

Conner Manning threw for 276 yards and a touchdown for the Panthers (7-5), who had a winning record for the second time in the program's eight-year history and set a school record for victories in a season.

"I told them before we stepped on the field that the team that wanted this game the most was going to win," first-year coach Shawn Elliott said.

"There was no doubt in my mind that we were the team that wanted it and we were going to win it," Elliott added. "We're a bunch of misfit coaches and misfit players that learned how to work hard and fight every day."

The Panthers (7-5) started their program from scratch in 2010, going 6-5 as an FCS independent. They began the transition to FBS with a 1-10 record in 2012, then sank to a program-worst 0-12 the following year - Georgia State's first in the Sun Belt Conference.

Saturday's appearance in the Cure Bowl was the team's second in three years. The Panthers lost to San Jose State 27-16 here in 2015, finishing 6-7.

"Coming into the year a lot of us believed we could have a special year," Manning said. "The new coaches brought a lot of energy, and we started this during the winter. We got to work early with the goal of being in this position."

Manning threw a 42-yard TD pass to Roger Carter, Demarcus Kirk scored on a 26-yard run, and Kyler Neal finished a 16-play drive consuming nine minutes of the fourth quarter with a 1-yard TD run that put Georgia State up 27-10.

Mike White tossed TD passes of 54 and 4 yards to Deon Yelder, finishing with 351 yards - the senior's eighth consecutive 300-yard game passing - for Western Kentucky (6-7). Yelder had five receptions for 112 yards for the Hilltoppers.

Georgia State star Penny Hart, the Sun Belt Conference leading receiver, did not start and played sparingly because of an ankle injury. His lone reception - for 27 yards midway through the third quarter - came on the play before Manning threw his TD pass to Carter.

Western Kentucky finished with a losing record in their first season under coach Mike Sanford. The Hilltoppers also were denied in their bid to set a school record with four consecutive bowl wins.

"Today's game, honestly, it's been what's ailed us all year," Sanford said.

"We needed to identify opportunities to run the football, I thought we had some early opportunities but not enough," Sanford added. "That made us one dimensional and more difficult to throw the football. To win championships we have to run the ball effectively, and we didn't do that."

White finished 26 of 39 passing and threw an interception on the final play of his career. He also lost a fumble late in the second quarter.

It wasn't the way the Hilltoppers envisioned him finishing up.

"Mike is up there with some of the best (quarterbacks) that I've ever been around," Sanford said. "It's disappointing for Mike to not go out the way he deserves to go out."

Georgia State DE Mackendy Cheridor had two sacks in the opening half, sending a message to White that the Western Kentucky quarterback could be in for a long day. Chase Middleton, Hardrick Willis, Terry Thomas and Dontae Wilson also had sacks for the Panthers.

Western Kentucky defensive end Julien Lewis was penalized for roughing the passer early in the second quarter. Officials reviewed the play and determined the 6-foot-3, 300 -pound redshirt junior should be ejected for targeting.


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