WKU drops LendingTree Bowl to Georgia State

Redshirt senior running back Gaej Walker taking the ball up the open lane against Georgia State on Dec. 26, 2020 at the LendingTree Bowl. 

Matthew Hargrove & Nick Kieser

Mobile, Alabama — WKU (5-7) played in its second bowl game under head coach Tyson Helton in as many seasons he has been at the helm of the program. Although, to no avail WKU suffered a 39-21 loss to Georgia State (6-4) in the final game of the season. 

This is the second time in the past four years that GSU has stripped WKU of a bowl title, with the first one dating back to the 2017 Cure Bowl. 

Graduate Tyrrell Pigrome was uncharacteristic in his performance for WKU, tossing two interceptions to go with his 180-passing yards. His favorite target was sophomore tight end Joshua Simon, who had 84 recieving yards on four catches.

“They just flat out outplayed us tonight,” Helton said postgame. “Penalties costed us at critical times and they did all of the right things.” 

For GSU everything went according to their gameplan. Junior Destin Coates rushed for 117-yards and a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Cornelious Brown threw three touchdown passes to go along with 232 passing yards.. 

WKU ends their season under .500 which is Helton’s first losing season on the Hill.

At the coin toss WKU differed to kick off to the Panthers to get the game going. Both programs failed to drive down the field on their opening drives. 

The Panthers wasted no time to explode offensively on their second drive of the game. Brown led a 64-yard drive downfield against the Hilltoppers before redshirt senior Devon Key came up with his first interception of the season. 

WKU broke into the Panther territory for the first time on a 12-yard scramble from Pigrome. The graduate nearly threw an interception on second and nine, ultimately GSU forced WKU to convert on fourth and nine with an 11-yard pass to freshman wideout Dakota Thomas. 

Joshua Simon inched the Hilltoppers closer to the endzone on a 34-yard pickup. Pigrome capped off the 14-play 80-yard drive with a 1-yard TD to take the early lead with 4:02 left in the opening frame. 

GSU punched back with a 75-yard drive knotting the game up moments before the first quarter ended. Coates took it to the house for GSU on an 11-yard rush to wrap up the first quarter of play.

WKU opened the second frame going -12 in yards and punted away to the Panthers 18-yard line. 

GSU took the opportunity going 82 yards downfield on 11 plays to take their first lead of the game with 9:50 to go in the first half. Brown tossed a 26-yard pass to redshirt sophomore wideout Sam Pickney to claim a 14-7 lead. 

Pigrome was picked off at 7:56 of the second quarter after 280 passing attempts, the longest active FBS streak in the nation. Redshirt freshman safety Antavious Lane picked off the graduate quarterback for the first time in 2020. 

Redshirt freshman wideout Jamari Thrash extended the Panthers lead 21-7 over WKU with 2:09 remaining in the half on a 5-yard catch in the back of the endzone. A 13-play 77-yard drive prior to halftime. 

Pigrome and WKU took over on their own 43-yard line and targeted freshman Malachi Corley downfield on the first play of the drive. Jontrey Hunter picked off Pigrome on the play and GSU took over on their own 20-yard line.

At 1:41 both programs got into a skirmish and as a result freshman defensive tackle David Ndukwe was disqualified from the game. Brown completed a pass to redshirt junior wideout Terrance Dixon and the extracurricular unsportsmanlike play took place on the WKU sideline. 

GSU capped off the first half with an 8-yard touchdown pass to junior wideout Cornelius McCoy to extend the lead to 27-7, senior kicker Noel Ruiz missed the extra point. GSU quarterback Brown finished the first half with 175 yards passing and three touchdown passes.

Pigrome tossed two interceptions in the first half and picked up 86 yards in the air throwing to Hilltopper receivers. Simon led all WKU receivers with 34 yards, all on one catch.

“I don’t account either one of those interceptions as really his fault,” Helton said of Pigrome’s turnovers. “I thought he was in the right spot. They were both down the field balls so he had to turn it loose. They just made good plays on the ball and they were good as it is.”

WKU’s opening drive to open the second half was highlighted with a 40-yard pick up by Joshua Simon. Redshirt senior running back Gaej Walker finished the drive in the back of the endzone. WKU drove 64 yards on 8 plays to cut the deficit to 27-14. 

After eight straight third down conversions for GSU the Hilltoppers forced the Panthers to punt for the second time. WKU’s Travis Collier was hit with the ball and GSU picked up the loose ball to retain possession. 

The Panthers continued to pour on the points via a 45-yard field goal by Ruiz making it 30-14 with 7:59 to play in the third frame. 

WKU drove 56 yards in 4:51 before being halted on GSU’s 2-yard line. Pigrome missed Simon in the endzone resulting in GSU taking over on downs. 

As the clock hit zero in the third frame GSU’s sideline began to erupt with energy before the final quarter of the 2020 season. The Panthers ended the third frame of play on WKU’s 47-yard line on third and one.

Beginning the final frame the Panthers settled for a 29-yard field goal from Ruiz to make it 33-14 to maintain the lead over the Hilltoppers. 

Haggerty punted away to GSU with 9:48 to play in regulation. The Panthers would then punt away with less than seven minutes to play. WKU took over on their own 32-yard line. 

GSU did not go quiet in the final five minutes of the game. Freshman quarterback Mikele Colasurdo tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wideout Cadarrius Thompson extending the lead to 39-14. GSU missed the two-point attempt.

Redshirt junior running back C.J. Jones scored the Hilltoppers final points of the season on a 2-yard rush. WKU trailed 39-21 with 2:17 remaining in regulation. 

GSU ran the clock out to close out the 2020 season for both programs.

“It gives us an opportunity in the offseason to reflect, get better, and go back to the drawing board and try to correct some of the problems we had this year,” Helton said. 

The Panthers out worked WKU in every aspect on the offensive side of the ball. GSU out rushed the Hilltoppers 227 yards to 104 and out passed them 257 to 180. GSU also went 13 of 22 on third down conversion attempts. 

Sports Editor Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick. 

Football beat reporter Matthew Hargrove can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewHargrov1