It was certainly a historic day for all parties involved in the first ever AutoNation Cure Bowl at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. The San Jose State Spartans became the first ever 5-7 team to compete in a bowl game, while the Georgia State Panthers capped off an improbable season with their first ever bowl appearance since joining the FBS in 2013.
The Spartans had a huge game both offensively and defensively as they moved on to a big 27-16 win. They became the first 5-7 team to ever win a bowl game.
The first quarter was a hotly-contested defensive coordinator as neither the Panthers’ or Spartans’ offense could get anything going. The Spartans finally found some success early in the second quarter as they moved into the redzone for the first time in the game for either team.
The Spartans faced a third and goal after wide receiver Hansell Wilson dropped Kenny Potter’s pass in the endzone with no Panthers around him. Potter was stopped short of the goal line and the Spartans settled for an Austin Lopez 19-yard field goal to break the scoreless tie.
It seemed all the Spartans needed was a score to give them a little bit of life in the game as they forced a three and out on the ensuing drive. Star running back Tyler Ervin fielded the punt, found room, and was off to the races for 85 yards to make the score 10-0.
The Panther offense shook off their slow start in the first quarter on the next drive after giving up the touchdown on special teams. Quarterback Nick Arbuckle led the team down the field with a big catch by tight end Ari Werts and the drive was capped off with a big 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Donovan Harden to make the score 10-7 midway through the second quarter.
That touchdown gave Arbuckle the Sun Belt single-season passing record with 4,256 yards.
The Spartans nearly made another unbelievable play at the end of the first half. Potter heaved an Aaron Rodgers-like Hail Mary with no time left on the clock, which was caught by wide receiver Tim Crawley for a touchdown, however it was negated by an illegal chopblock and the halftime score stood at 10-7 in their favor.
The second half started off much like the first did as neither team could get much going. The Spartans got a break after a Panther punt went out of bounds at the Georgia State 37.
The Spartans drove down inside the redzone for the second time of the game and had goal-to-go situation from the five yard line. However, Potter’s pass fell incomplete and for the second time, the Spartans settled for a Lopez field goal from inside the five to make the score 13-7 right before the fourth quarter.
The Panthers tried to get something going offensively, but they were forced to a three-and-out after a big sack on Arbuckle by safeties Dominic Barnes and Maurice McKnight. Luckily for them, they had gotten great production from punter Wil Lutz, who booted a 70 yard punt, his longest of the season, which was downed inside the five, the second of the game for the Panthers.
The bad field position for the Spartans proved costly for them. The Panthers forced a three-and-out and on the punt, Michael Carrizosa mishandled the snap and stepped out of bounds, giving Georgia State a safety and making the score 13-9 with just under 13 minutes left in the game.
The Panthers took advantage of a big return on the free kick by Harden and started the ensuing drive inside Spartan territory. On a second and nine from the 19, Arbuckle found Todd Boyd wide open on a screen play and he galloped into the endzone, giving the Panthers a 16-13 lead, their first of the game.
It seemed like both offenses waited until the fourth quarter to get things going. On the ensuing drive, the Spartans drove into Panthers territory and Potter found room up the middle on a zone read play.
He raced 42 yards for the touchdown to make the score 20-16. That was his seventh rushing touchdown of the season, which tied a school record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
The Panthers decided to take a risk from their own 49-yard line and go for it on fourth and one. Arbuckle’s questionable deep pass sailed on his target and the Spartans took over inside Panther territory.
The Spartans didn’t have very far to go on their next drive and they were able to get inside the five yard line once again after a big run by Ervin. They faced a third-and-goal from the two when Potter found tight end Josh Oliver to make the score 27-16 with just under three minutes left in the game.
The Spartans came up big again on defense as they forced Arbuckle into a bad pass and snagged an interception, effectively sealing the victory for San Jose State.
Ervin ended the game with 132 yards rushing and an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown. His rushing total gave him 1,601 yards on the season, which is a San Jose State record.
For the Panthers, Arbuckle ended the game with 208 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Potter finished the game with 89 yards through the air and a touchdown and 69 yards on the ground and a touchdown, which won him MVP honors.
The first ever AutoNation Cure Bowl was certainly a success and it will be interesting to see how things go in 2016.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports