Back Panthers Head Home With History

Panthers Head Home With History

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Not long after the start of football at Georgia State, the Panthers have made powerful progress.

The final moments of Georgia State's Cure Bowl victory over Western Kentucky were over a decade in the making. Prior to a debut season in 2010, years of conceptualization and preparation laid the foundation for the birth of a program. That timeline now comes with a trophy. Young and hungry, the Panthers came to Orlando with an opportunity; they head back with history. 

Georgia State's performance in the school's first-ever bowl win was one that won't be soon forgotten. The Panthers used a number of big plays in the second-half to pull away from the Hilltoppers, with a Chase Middleton game-ending interception serving as the exclamation point on a statement triumph. Led by end Mackendy Cheridor, the Georgia State defense held WKU to -2 yards rushing and forced three turnovers. Offensively, the Panthers compiled 419 yards of total offense. 

In the game's deciding situations, Georgia State came through in the clutch. Postseason success, for the Panthers, came with conviction.

Literately and figuratively, Conner Manning's final kneel was one for the record books.

"It's tremendous, just for this program," he explained post-game. "To be a part of this, making history, first bowl win ever, I couldn't be prouder."

Manning had a memorable grand finale. He completed 20-of-28 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown, adding some key gains rushing, connecting with Roger Carter on a critical 42-yard touchdown on a highlight double-reverse flea-flicker. A California-native who transferred to the Panthers from Utah, Manning was a key catalyst for Georgia State's famed run. He was named Cure Bowl MVP for his efforts.   

The post-game scene was an emotional one. A redshirt senior, Manning was at the center of a meaningful celebration. 

"I love this group of guys," he added. "To be able to make history with this group, I couldn't be prouder or be more excited about this team."

Players and coaches alike sprinted towards the home cheering section after the final whistle, with head coach Shawn Elliott leading the charge. The energy from Saturday night will drive Georgia State for quite some time.

Four years ago, the Panthers did not win a single game; three years ago, they won merely one. Georgia State, on a postseason stage, just set a new school record with seven. The victory marks new expectations for the Panthers moving forward, elevating the status quo even as the brand is still being built. There is now tangible tradition on the ledger.

Not long after the start of football at Georgia State, the Panthers have made powerful progress. This is a program that has arrived, one with a night to remember.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports