Quarterback Garrett Smith provided a strong relief effort in the second half, but it wasn't enough as ULM fell 47-37 to Georgia State at Malone Stadium.
"We didn't have the energy that we needed on offense or defense," ULM head coach Matt Viator said. "Hopefully, we get past this and have better energy. We have to have better energy to compete against these teams in this league. I have no idea why."
Playing their fourth-straight road game, the Panthers (3-2, 2-0 Sun Belt) rolled up 670 yards of total offense. Visiting quarterback Conner Manning completed 26-of-35 attempts for 446 yards and four touchdowns while star receiver Penny Hart made 11 catches for 190 yards and three scores.
"We got hit with a couple of bombs early," ULM linebacker David Griffith said. "Most importantly, we fought to the end. That's the most important thing. No one gave up."
Smith came into the game after one series in the third quarter and completed 14-of-23 attempts for 225 yards and three touchdowns while directing four scoring drives.
"Honestly, I didn't expect to play," Smith said. "Caleb's been doing great the last three games. At halftime, Coach V said I might get an opportunity after the first series. I was ready to go."
The Warhawks (3-3, 3-1 Sun Belt) were trailing 33-10 when Smith replaced starter Caleb Evans, who was 9-of-14 for 89 yards and lost a fumble.
"It was for a spark," Viator said. "We can all sit here and act like it was on Caleb but it wasn't. We couldn't run the football, we had no rhythm and we had no energy. We just felt that way."
ULM scored on a 14-yard pass from Smith to Jonathan Hodoh with 3:06 remaining in the contest to make it a 47-31 game. The Warhawks recovered the onside kick and scored eight plays later as Smith tossed a 12-yard touchdown to Xavier Brown. ULM came up short on the 2-point conversion as Brian Williams' pass back to Smith was off the mark and the final margin remained 10.
"We had a two-point play that we could have gotten to make it a one-score game and we still had three timeouts," Viator said. "Who knows? Hats off to Georgia State, because I thought they did a great job."
With a homecoming crowd of 12,578 looking on, ULM got off to a rocky start.
Georgia State converted a big passing play to go up 6-0 with 10:59 to play in the first quarter. Manning hit Hart in stride for a 50-yard touchdown strike but ULM's David Griffith blocked the PAT kick.
Special teams' assassin Marcus Green delivered a swift rebuttal for the Warhawks, as he came right back with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to put the Warhawks ahead 7-6. Green spun through traffic and ran away from the pursuing Panthers.
"I thought we did kick it good and our return game was good," Viator said. "I thought our special teams were pretty good for most of the game."
Devin Gentry's 69-yard touchdown reception on the next series put Georgia State back up 13-7.
The Warhawks took the worst field position possible and turned it into points late in the opening period. Starting at their 1, ULM went 79 yards in 13 plays to kick a 38-yard field goal by Craig Ford, cutting the lead to 13-10.
Georgia State added a 27-yard field goal by Brandon Wright to increase its lead to 16-10 with 13:17 showing in the second period. A 32-yard reception by tight end Ari Werts was the biggest chain mover on the nine-play, 65-yard drive.
The Panthers increased their advantage to 23-10 late in the first half with Gentry's 15-yard touchdown run. Georgia State moved 78 yards in eight plays for the score with 1:42 to go in the second period.
After a quick defensive stop, Georgia State went 53 yards in seven plays. Wright boomed through a 46-yard field goal as time expired for a 26-10 halftime lead.
"Not a lot of energy at all," Viator said as he left the field at halftime. "We've got to do something on offense. We're out of rhythm. We're not making plays at all."
ULM's Evans lost a fumble on the exchange at its own 47 in the third quarter that set up a Panthers' score. Six plays later, Manning hit Hart for a 25-yard touchdown that moved the lead to 33-10 with 6:29 remaining in the period.
That led to a ULM quarterback change that paid quick dividends for an offense seeking a lift.
"We came in at the half and said let's give Caleb another series because maybe the whole offense will rejuvenate," Viator said. "We still didn't and wanted to give Garrett a shot and he did. Hats off to him."
Smith entered the game and immediately hooked up with Green on an 80-yard touchdown with 6:11 to play, closing the gap to 33-17.
The defense couldn't maintain the momentum though as Manning tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Hart, who made a 40-yard catch on the drive. The Panthers were up 40-17.
ULM closed the margin to 40-24 with 1:19 in third quarter as Smith directed another scoring drive. The quarterback had a 32-yard scramble during ULM's seven-play, 59-yard series capped by Kayin White's 1-yard touchdown run.
The Panthers kept moving though, chewing 7:55 off the clock on a 15-play, 95-yard drive. Kyler Neal's 1-yard touchdown run with 8:24 remaining made it 47-24.
"I just don't think we had the juice that you need," Viator said. "These teams are good. … We had several of those last year. More than I wanted. I guess the difference is this year, at least we battle back."
Bird of a feather: Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson hung out with friends in The Grove before finding a perch at Malone Stadium to watch his son – red-shirt freshman tight end Josh Pederson – play in person for the first time this season.
Interviewed on ULM's radio broadcast at halftime by Tag Rome, Pederson said, "My family moved here in 1986 and I got my education here. To watch my son on the same field where I played games means a lot to my family."
The ULM L Club Hall of Fame quarterback took advantage of a favorable spot in the NFL schedule to visit Monroe. His Eagles played on Thursday night and improved to 5-1 with a 28-23 win over the Carolina Panthers.
"I'm so excited to be back with family and friends in Monroe," Pederson said.
Special delivery: ULM's special teams' unit provided plenty of support early.
David Griffith blocked a PAT kick, Marcus Green returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown and Duke Carter had a 39-yard kickoff return to the Georgia Southern 40 in the first quarter. Craig Ford also booted a 38-yard field goal in the quarter.
Green returned a kickoff for a score in his second-straight home game. Green had an 82-yard TD return vs. Coastal Carolina.
Postgame chatter: "Our team is not going to give up. As you could see early in the year we were down big at Memphis and came back and pulled within nine or 10 points to make that a close game. We're not going to lay down no matter the point difference." – ULM receiver Marcus Green.
"I'm disappointed in our energy level to start the game. I don't feel like we had any energy level on either side of the ball." – ULM coach Matt Viator.
Up next: ULM heads to South Alabama for a Sun Belt road game on Oct. 26. Kickoff is 4:05 p.m.
The Jaguars improved to 2-4 overall, 1-1 in the league last Wednesday night with an impressive 19-8 win at Troy. Running back Tra Minter had 104 total yards and South Alabama benefited from four takeaways in a winning effort.
Tail feathers: Georgia State registered seven sacks in the game. ULM had allowed just two sacks in Sun Belt games and five overall coming in. … When ULM's Evans lost a fumble in the third quarter, it was the Warhawks' first turnover since losing a fumble against Southern Miss. … ULM game captains were Caleb Tucker, Frank Sutton Jr., Brian Williams and David Elias Jr.