ATLANTA — The first college football game at Georgia State Stadium looked a lot like so many of those baseball playoff games at Turner Field.
A dismal performance from the home team.
A raucous celebration for the visiting team.
Former Florida quarterback Treon Harris ran for a touchdown and Tennessee State came up with a huge defensive stand, ruining Georgia State’s debut at the refurbished stadium formerly known as Turner Field with a 17-10 victory Thursday night.
Before a crowd of 24,333 — one of the largest turnouts in the history of the Panthers’ still-fledgling program — Georgia State turned it over four times and managed only 49 yards rushing against the FCS school.
“I appreciate everybody who came out here tonight,” said Shawn Elliott, Georgia State’s new coach. “It was a great way to open this stadium — except for the game itself.”
The Panthers were eager to make a good impression at the former home of the Braves, whose decision to build a new stadium in the suburbs left Georgia State with a huge gift — a major league-quality stadium near its downtown campus, a facility that is only 21 years old but filled with plenty of history. It started out as Centennial Olympic Stadium, the centerpiece of the 1996 Atlanta Games, and spent the past two decades as a 50,000-seat baseball park.
Now, it’s known as Georgia State Stadium, at least until the school lands a corporate benefactor. No matter the name, the Panthers feel like they finally have a true home field after renting out the Georgia Dome for their first seven seasons, usually laying before sparse crowds in the massive facility.
“You want to start your new stadium with a win,” nose guard Julien Laurent said. “You can’t get that first one back. So, yeah, it does hurt.”
While the Braves had plenty of success at Turner Field, making 12 playoff appearances, they never won a World Series. Most notably, nine of their postseason appearances ended with a loss on their home field.
Turner Field became known as the place where other teams came to celebrate.
This time, it was the Tennessee State band blaring away from the end zone — what used to be the first-base line — while several thousand Tiger fans danced in a small section of seats built across right field in the hasty conversion from baseball to football.
“Any loss is going to hurt, but the stadium is obviously incredible and we had an amazing crowd that came out to support us,” Panthers center Gabe Mobley said. “Hopefully they’ll give us another chance.”
Seth Rowland scored on a 4-yard run in the second quarter and broke off a 59-yard gain right up the middle to set up Harris’ 12-yard scoring play late in the third. The quarterback transferred to Tennessee State and earned the No. 1 job after leaving Florida, where he started 15 games over two seasons.
Rowland’s big run came two plays after the Tigers, clinging to a 10-3 lead, stopped burly Kyler Neal about an inch shy of the stick on a fourth-down run at the Tennessee State 4.
The referee initially signaled a first down for the Panthers, before deciding to call for a measurement. After hovering over the ball, looking for any sign of daylight between the ball and the marker, the call was changed.
First down, Tennessee State.
The Panthers gave themselves a chance, finally reaching the end zone on a 36-yard touchdown pass from second-string quarterback Aaron Winchester to Taz Bateman with 11½ minutes to go. But a fumble near midfield deprived Georgia State of a shot at the tying score, and an interception by Dajour Nesbeth clinched it for the Tigers.
Winchester finished the game after starting QB Conner Manning went out in the second half with a ding to the head. Elliott said it wasn’t diagnosed as concussion, but the senior felt a bit dizzy so he didn’t go back in.
Just another blow for the Panthers on a tough opening night.
“We all sat there and watched it,” Elliott said, shaking his head. “A very, very poor performance.”
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