Spartans Rally Past Georgia State 27-16 in Inaugural AutoNation Cure Bowl
Written by Ricky Hazel
ORLANDO, Fla. (CureBowl.com) – Senior Tyler Ervin rushed for 132 yards and returned a punt for a touchdown as San Jose State rallied to defeat Georgia State 27-16 Saturday in the inaugural AutoNation Cure Bowl presented by Florida Hospital.
“We wanted to send our seniors off victoriously in their final game,” San Jose State Head Coach Ron Caragher said. “And it’s so fun to be part of a bowl with a philanthropic type of approach to the game, and giving to such a good cause, really is a blessing. It’s an honor and a privilege to be in this game.”
While Ervin did the heavy lifting, it was junior quarterback Kenny Potter who delivered in the clutch for the Spartans (6-7) to earn MVP honors. Just moments after Georgia State (6-7) had taken its only lead of the night, Potter ran for a 42-yard touchdown to put the Spartans back in front for good.
Potter then capped the win with a 1-yard TD pass to Josh Oliver with 2:40 left to play for the final margin in front of 18,536 fans at the Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium.
“It was a team effort, completely, with the defense playing so well,” Potter said. “At the end, it was just an offense that we just stuck together and kept fighting. We kind of willed ourselves to the win, and that’s with our coaches trusting in us and it’s awesome. It was an awesome way to win, and it wasn’t the ideal way to win, but it was fantastic.”
The game featured a bounty of big plays on special teams, which was only appropriate on a night dedicated to raising money for a special cause.
During the game a spotlight was shined on the fight against breast cancer with survivors of the disease and family members included in pregame and halftime ceremonies.
In addition, AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson and his wife Alice, who is a breast cancer survivor, presented a check for $1 million to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).
The Orlando Sports Foundation, led by executive director Alan Gooch and president Megan Dowdy, also presented a check to the Myra Bibblowit, CEO of the BCRF and Dr. Annette Khaled of the UCF College of Medicine, for $150,000. That was the largest single donation ever made by a bowl game to a charitable cause.
The game got off to a slow start as the two teams spent the first quarter feeling each other out. It was mid-way through the second quarter, with San Jose State holding a 3-0 lead, when Ervin got the fireworks started with an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown.
It was the second punt return score of Ervin’s career and was a surprise momentum boost for the Spartans, who had just 14 yards on punt returns all season.
Once the lamp was lit, the fireworks kept coming. Georgia State senior quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, completed three-of-four passes for 87 yards, the finial 38 on a touchdown strike to Donovan Harden for his 27th TD pass of the year.
The Georgia State scoring drive was highlighted by a pair of pass plays – one for 20 yards and another for 29 – to third string freshman tight end Ari Werts. Coming into the game, Werts had just two receptions on the season.
The Spartans took the 10-7 lead into halftime, but narrowly missed out on a touchdown on the final play of the half. Potter, who had just 89 passing yards in the game on 10-of-19 passes, threw up a “Hail Mary” on what would have been the final play of the half.
The pass was hauled in by junior Tim Crawley for an apparent touchdown, but the play was nullified by a penalty for an illegal block.
The third quarter turned out to be much like the first, with only a 19-yard Austin Lopez field goal for SJSU with two seconds remaining in the quarter. The Georgia State defense forced the field goal, much like it had earlier in the game, with a tremendous goal-line stand.
After the Panthers were unable to move the ball early in the fourth quarter, it was time for the GSU special teams to come up big. Panthers punter Will Lutz delivered a perfect rugby-style punt that rolled dead at the San Jose State two.
Three plays failed to get the Spartans out of the shadow of their own end zone and a high snap on fourth down forced San Jose State punter Michael Carrizosa, who was a Ray Guy Award finalist, out of the end zone for a safety.
Georgia State kept the momentum from the big play of the Panthers’ defense. A 24-yard return by Harden on the free kick set GSU up at the Spartans’ 36. Four plays later, Arbuckle connected with Todd Boyd for a 19-yard touchdown to give Georgia State the lead 16-13 with 10:46 to play.
“I’m going to remember a bunch of guys that pulled together to take a team that’s been playing FBS football for three years and got themselves from 2-6 to a bowl game,” said Georgia State Head Coach Trent Miles. “That showed a team that would never quit, never gave up on each other, believed in what was going on.”