MOBILE – Georgia State’s Cornelious Brown IV didn’t let a first-quarter interception affect his performance Saturday afternoon.
The redshirt freshman shook off the errant pass and led the Panthers to four straight touchdown drives en route to a 39-21 win over Western Kentucky at the 22nd annual LendingTree Bowl at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium.
“I knew we were going to get rolling,” Brown said. “My teammates Sam Pinckney, Cornelius McCoy, Roger Carter and Aubry Pane picked me up and never let me hang my head. They never lost confidence in me. Coach (Shawn) Elliot came up and patted me on the back and told me that I was ready now. He never lost confidence in me. “
Brown was named the 2020 LendingTree Bowl Most Valuable Player after he completed 15-of-29 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 45 rushing yards on 10 carries.
GSU junior running back Devin Coates was solid on the ground with 23 carries for 117 yards and one touchdown to earn LendingTree Bowl Offensive MVP honors.
After a three-and-out on its first possession, GSU marched to the WKU 7-yard on its next possession before Brown was intercepted in the end zone by Hilltoppers senior safety Devon Key.
“I was hot early,” Elliot said. “I told him you can’t win the game with one play so let’s just take what we can get. He came back and delivered just a masterful performance after the third drive. Our receivers, our backs and our offensive line – the supporting cast around ‘Quad’ — had to play well and they did. They push hard every single day but ‘Quad’ had an exceptional night, I was really, really proud of him. I told him the sky is the limit for us, let’s make sure we go and put the next step in and make us the best we can be.”
Western Kentucky then marched 80 yards in 14 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Senior quarterback Tyrell Pigrome capped the drive with a 2-yard run to give WKU its only lead with 4:02 left in the first quarter. Pigrome totaled 81 yards on the drive. He completed six passes to five different receivers and had a touchdown pass negated by a holding penalty.
Brown didn’t pout following the interception and led the Panthers to four straight scoring drives to build 27-7 halftime lead.
GSU (5-4) used a heavy dose of junior running back Devin Coates on the next possession to tie the game at 7-7. Coates ran the ball seven times for 48 yards on the drive, including a 12-yard run to set up a first down at the WKU 11-yard line. He ran 11 yards on the next play to tie the game with eight seconds left in the quarter.
Brown completed 3-of-4 passes on the Panthers’ next possession to take the lead. Brown hooked up with sophomore Sam Pickney on a 26-yard touchdown pass to give GSU a 14-7 lead with 9:50 left in the half.
The defense set up the final two scores of the half with a pair of interceptions on back-to-back snaps.
GSU freshman safety Antavious Lane recorded the first interception at the GSU 23-yard line. It was Pigrome’s first interception of the season after 278 consecutive pass attempts without a pick.
GSU scored on the next possession to make the score 21-7. Williams picked up a chunk of yards on back-to-back runs of 13 and 20 yards. Brown then found Pickney with a 26-yard strike with 2:09 left in the half.
On WKU’s very next offensive play, Pigrome was picked off again by GSU sophomore Jontrey Hunter in the end zone.
Hunter led the team with six tackles and recorded two turnovers to win LendingTree Bowl Defensive MVP honors.
GSU took it 80 yards to go up 27-7. Brown completed an 11-yard pass to junior Jamyest Williams to convert a third-and-nine. He later had a 26-yard completion to Pickney to set up first-and-goal at the WKU 8-yard line. He capped the drive with an 8-yard pass to Cornelius McCoy with eight seconds left. Noel Ruiz missed the extra point.
The Hilltoppers could not overcome the 27-point run by the Panthers.
“It was the difference in the game,” WKU head coach Tyson Helton said. “They were able to run the ball efficiently against our defense. I thought we had done a nice job for the most part against the run all year, but they were able to move the line of scrimmage.”
Western Kentucky stopped the run with a touchdown on its first drive of the second half.
The Hilltoppers covered 64 yards in eight plays, capped by Gage Walker’s 5-yard touchdown run to make it 27-14 with 11:27 left in the quarter. Pigrome set up Walker’s touchdown with a 40-yard pass to tight end Joshua Simon to set up first and goal at the GSU 4.
Georgia State tacked on a field goal in the third quarter, following the Hilltoppers’ third turnover of the game. Ruiz nailed a 45-yard field goal to make it 30-14 with 7:59 left in the third.
Ruiz added a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter for a 33-14 lead.
Ruiz, who made both field goals and scored nine points, was named the LendingTree Bowl Special Teams MVP.
GSU extended the lead to 39-14 when backup quarterback Mikele Colasurado threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Cadarrius Thompson with just over five minutes left.
WKU junior running back C.J. Jones capped the scoring with a 2-yard run to make the final 39-21.