Sunday May 29th, 2016 11:28PM

Georgia St. takes small step in 51-13 loss to Vols

By The Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE -- The Georgia State Panthers took home some school history from their latest lopsided loss to a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision, and coach Bill Curry feels they also kept fighting to the very end for the first time.

Christian Benvenuto kicked two field goals and Bill McLane ran for a 12-yard touchdown Saturday, as Georgia State (0-2) scored its first offensive points ever against an FBS team in a 51-13 loss to Tennessee. The Panthers stayed in this game for about 25 minutes, trailing 14-6 before Tennessee started scoring touchdowns to put the game away.

"A step forward, but we need to keep it closer a lot longer than that and have a chance ... have a legitimate chance," Curry said. "I was anxious to see when that disappeared, and when it was out of hand, would we keep fighting and we did. And that's the first time we've done that. This is our third time to be in one of these stadiums against a really good team. And we played hard the other times, but we didn't act like we thought we belonged there. Today, we fought them."

Georgia State had scored their first touchdown against an FBS foe on a kickoff return in a 63-7 loss to Alabama in 2010, but was shut out 56-0 by Houston last season. So, Christian Benvenuto made the first bit of Panthers history on the night with his 32-yard field goal in the first quarter, capping a 14-play drive for 60 yards. He added a 30-yarder late in the second quarter when Georgia State recovered a fumble by Tennessee running back Marlin Lane, pulling Georgia State within 14-6 with 5:37 left before halftime.

That's when Tennessee clicked into gear, and the Vols had a 28-6 lead by halftime along with a 302-155 edge in total offense.

McLane scored the Panthers' first offensive touchdown against an FBS school when he scored on a keeper on fourth down with 58 seconds left in the game. McLane was 18 of 41 for 176 yards, though he was sacked three times. He also struggled getting the ball from the center several times, but got the touchdown late.

"That was awesome," McLane said. "I didn't know if I was going to get it at first. I was able to squeak it in there. Hopefully, we can use it to get some momentum going into next week and the rest of the year."

It just wasn't enough against Tennessee (2-0), with Tyler Bray throwing for 310 yards and four touchdowns - three of those to Justin Hunter who finished with eight catches for 146 yards. The Vols recorded their highest single-game point total since Derek Dooley took over the program in 2010.

"We were outmanned, we were outrun, outrouted and outfootworked," Curry said. "We were taught some painful lessons by a great receiver corps and potentially a great quarterback. He really understands how to deliver it."

Bray completed his last 13 passes Saturday and didn't have an incompletion after the first quarter. He threw the three TD passes to Hunter and also had a 19-yard scoring strike to tight end Mychal Rivera, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday.

"I've told you guys Tyler is the best quarterback in the country," Rivera said. "That's how I feel."

Bray took the compliment in stride.

"I just think Mike's sucking up (to me)," Bray said. "I mean, he wants more passes. He's always going to say something like that."

Bray wasn't the only Tennessee player delivering big numbers.

After showing some signs of rust last week in a 35-21 victory over North Carolina State, Hunter had one of his best performances in a Tennessee uniform Saturday. A Tennessee player had caught three touchdown passes in a game eight previous times, most recently by Chris Hannon in a 59-21 victory over Mississippi State in 2003.

Rajion Neal added two touchdown runs for Tennessee, which broke the game open against the Panthers when Hunter scored twice in the last 4 1/2 minutes of the first half.

This is the last season as an FCS-level school for the Panthers, who join the Sun Belt next season. Curry also became the first head coach to face both Dooley and his father, Vince, who coached at Georgia from 1964-88. Curry had posted a 2-5 record against Georgia while coaching Georgia Tech from 1980-86.
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